On this Memorial Day, I’m remembering Leonard Matlovich who was a Vietnam war vet. He was a recipient of both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He died of AIDS in 1988.

I first learned about Matlovich, after seeing a quilt for him in the AIDS Quilt in 1988 or 1989. On it was this message:

The Air Force pinned a medal on me for killing a man and discharged me for making love to one.

For me coming across this panel, was a profound experience. At panels for guys I had known personally, I felt great sadness; by looking at the vast ocean of panels all around me, I was dumbfounded; but Matlovich’s panel hit me like a ton of bricks. It was concrete evidence to the way this epidemic was devastatingly taking our gay leaders and erasing our queer history.

Leonard was one of the first gay enlisted men, to intentionally out himself as a way to confront the discriminatory practices of the military. His fight to remain in the military forever changed the American dialogue about gay people. The Wikipedia entry puts it this way:

His fight to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out of the closet became a cause célèbre around which the gay community rallied. His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of gay and lesbian servicemembers and gay people generally.[3][4][5][6]Matlovich was the first named openly gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. newsmagazine.[7] According to author Randy Shilts, “It marked the first time the young gay movement had made the cover of a major newsweekly. To a movement still struggling for legitimacy, the event was a major turning point.” [8] In October 2006, Matlovich was honored by LGBT History Month as a leader in the history of the LGBT community.

We know about Leonard Matlovich because he outed himself, but there are thousands and thousands of lesbian, gay, bi and trans persons who have served and died for our country and the cause of Freedom and Democracy, even when being lesbian, gay, bi or trans was illegal. So, in addition to remembering Leonard on this day, I remember all those who like him sacrificed for me, and for every living American.

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