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social sciences

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Matlovich, Leonard P., Jr. (1943-1988)  
page: 1  2  

Judge Gesell wrote, "This is a distressing case. It is a bad case. It may be that bad cases will make bad law . . . . it is impossible to escape the feeling that the time has arrived or may be imminent when branches of the Armed Forces need to reappraise the problem which homosexuality unquestionably presents in the military context."

But fearing further legal disappointment and bad precedent, Addlestone decided not to appeal the case to the U. S. Court of Appeals. Matlovich, however, was determined to fight on. Attorney Carrington Bogan took on the case in 1976 and combined it with another gay service member's case, that of sailor Vernon Berg, yet the court did not reach a decision until 1978.

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Meanwhile, the Matlovich case continued to attract much media attention. In 1978, NBC broadcast Sgt. Matlovitch vs. the Air Force, one of the first gay rights feature stories aired on national television.

When the Court of Appeals did rule, it overturned the lower court's decision, but not on constitutional grounds. Rather, the higher court required the Air Force to clarify its exception rule. It was not the victory that Matlovich or Bogan had hoped for, but it was a limited success.

Two years later, Judge Gesell issued a new ruling in the case. Because the Air Force had failed to respond appropriately to the court's order, Gesell ordered Matlovich reinstated in the Air Force, with $62,000 in back pay. The Air Force, in turn, offered him a tax-free settlement of $160,000 to drop his case and accept an honorable discharge.

At this point, Matlovich faced a difficult decision: either he could return to the Air Force and face a hostile environment and likely dismissal in the future, or he could accept the settlement and continue in his new civilian life as a gay activist and aspiring politician.

Matlovich accepted the settlement and returned to San Francisco, where he had been living the previous few years. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Guerneville on the Russian River and opened a restaurant. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce. After three years of working to make the restaurant succeed, Matlovich decided that his business was untenable because of the stigma associated with the AIDS epidemic, which had begun to devastate the gay community. In 1984 he returned to San Francisco.

Alarmed by the AIDS epidemic, Matlovich attacked the bathhouse culture of San Francisco and worked tirelessly to close down the baths. He then moved to Washington, D. C. to help form a gay conservative organization. When the gay conservative group failed in 1985, he returned to San Francisco.

In 1986 Matlovich was diagnosed with AIDS. In the last few years of his life, he devoted himself to AIDS activism. A few months prior to his death, he moved to Los Angeles, where he died from complications related to AIDS on June 22, 1988.

With full military honors and a twenty-one gun salute, Matlovich was interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C. He intended his grave to serve as a memorial for all gay and lesbian veterans. Hence, rather than recording his name, the headstone reads simply "A Gay Vietnam Veteran."

Also inscribed on the stone are the words "Never Again" and "Never Forget," chiseled beneath two triangles, and the words that he made famous through his many speeches: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

Geoffrey W. Bateman

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Duberman, Martin. "Sex and the Military: The Matlovich Case (1976)." Left Outside: The Politics of Exclusion / Essays / 1964-1999. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

"Gays on the March." Time (September 8, 1975): 32-43.

Hippler, Mike. Matlovich: The Good Soldier. Boston: Alyson, 1989.

Shilts, Randy. Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bateman, Geoffrey W.  
    Entry Title: Matlovich, Leonard P., Jr.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 11, 2010  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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