Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Missing Leonard Matlovich

September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine
When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.—Leonard Matlovich, Vietnam Veteran (1943-1988)
Vietnam war veteran and Purple Heart recipient wounded in Da Nang, USAF pilot, Sgt. Leonard Matolvitch was the first gay man in the military to come out of the closet. In 1975, he was discharged for being "unfit for service" he was gay. He made the cover of Time Magazine.

Guerneville writer, Randy Shilts, in Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military, wrote: "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."

Leonard sued for reinstatement, but the court case dragged on until 1980, the military refused to reinstate him, but offered him a lump sum of $160,000 for back pay and his pension. He took the money and ran, and in 1981, he moved to Gurerneville, on the Russian River, an up-and-coming gay mecca.

Leonard was also a big patron of poetry, I used to produce poetry readings at his Stumptown Annie's Pizza Parlour in Guerneville, ca. 1983, he sold the place in Jan., 1984.)  Bobby Kaufman was on The River in those days—pretty strung out but Leonard was always a gracious host. In his honey-sweet Savannah drawl, Leonard once told me that J Edgar Hoover was a cross-dresser! Things like that.

In 1984, AIDS had reared its ugly head on the river. He sold Stumptown Annie's, and moved to Paris, while visiting the graves of lovers Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and  Oscar Wilde, he got the idea to create an AIDS memorial.

He moved back to the Castro District, in San Francisco, where he sold Ford cars. In 1986, a nasty chest cold was confirmed as AIDS. He became a champion for HIV/AIDS research, when he came out on Good Morning America that he was HIV positive, we were devastated.

On the steps of the California State Capitol during the March on Sacramento for Gay and Lesbian Rights, on May 7, 1988, Leonard made his final appearance:
...And I want you to look at the flag, our rainbow flag, and I want you to look at it with pride in your heart, because we too have a dream. And what is our dream? Ours is more than an American dream. It's a universal dream. Because in South Africa, we're black and white, and in Northern Ireland, we're Protestant and Catholic, and in Israel we're Jew and Muslim. And our mission is to reach out and teach people to love, and not to hate. And you know the reality of the situation is that before we as an individual meet, the only thing we have in common is our sexuality. And in the AIDS crisis - and I have AIDS - and in the AIDS crisis, if there is any one word that describes our community's reaction to AIDS, that word is love, love, love.
Less than a month before his 45th birthday, on June 22, 1988, Leonard died of complications from AIDS, in LA, beneath a large photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ironic that Leonard's tombstone at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., is in the same row as that old cross-dresser, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Leonard's grave is a LGBT tourist attraction, and has become a de facto AIDS memorial site.

I miss you Leonard. Thank you for coming out so others could too. It was a very brave thing to do.

rev. 12/17/17

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