Leonard Philip Matlovich (July 6, 1943 – June 22, 1988) was a Vietnam War veteran, race relations instructor, and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself to the military to fight their ban on gays, and perhaps the best-known openly gay man in America in the 1970s next to Harvey Milk.
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.
Matlovich was the first named openly gay person to appear on the cover of a U.S. newsmagazine. 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.” In October 2006, Matlovich was honored by LGBT History Month as a leader in the history of the LGBT community.
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 service members and gay people generally.
His tombstone reads…
“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and discharged me for loving one”Leonard Matlovich