August 23, 1975 (a Saturday)

Our own tyrants learned this lesson through bitter experience, when the love between Aristogiton and Harmodius grew so strong that it shattered their power. Wherever, therefore, it has been established that it is shameful to be involved in sexual relationships [of men] with men, this is due to evil on the part of legislators, to despotism on the part of the rulers, and to cowardice on the part of the governed.

— Plato, Symposium

Zen stones

Leonard Matlovich comes out.

History tells us that a man being able to admit to the other men in his unit that he is gay is not the antithesis of a successful war-fighting culture. On Saturday, 23 August 1975, U.S. Air Force Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine with the headline “I Am A Homosexual”. Nevertheless, on 22 October 1975 he was given a general discharge. Matlovich was in many ways the first prominent face of the unjust treatment of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. He was awarded the bronze star and a purple heart for his valor in combat. When he decided to stand up and tell the truth he knew what he was doing. The story goes that when Matlovich gave his superior officer his coming-out letter, the African-American officer asked: “What the hell does this mean?” Matlovich told him “It means Brown v. the Board of Education.”

Matlovich's tombstone at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

In 1979, after winning a much-publicized case against the U.S. Air Force, his discharge was upgraded to “honorable.” In 1988, Matlovich died at the age of 44 of complications from AIDS. He was buried with full military honors at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.   His grave bears his famous statement:

When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.

Suggested Reading:

  • John Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, (New York, NY: Villard, 1994).
  • Plato, Symposium
  • Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Book 6
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