Sunday, June 17, 2007

Remembering Leonard Matlovich

In 1979, I was part of the Dallas committee to attend the first March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. My biggest job was helping with the local publicity on the march. I designed and sold buttons, helped with media kits and had the opportunity to meet and get to know Leonard Matlovich.

Lenny was an Air Force Technical Sergeant who won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Vietnam...and was discharged for being gay. His face appeared on the covers of national magazines as the topic of gays in the military first reared its head. He became an instant celebrity when he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and he agreed to lend our cause some of that cache by appearing to promote the march for our Dallas group.

He was a gentle and very bright man. He had already opened a business in California when I met him. His charm and wit as well as his enthusiasm for the topic of Gay Rights really made him a great spokesperson for our cause.

After the 1979 March on Washington, Lenny returned to California to his pizza restaurant and took up his normal life again. I got wind that he was sick in 1986, and later he announced he had HIV/AIDS. Like many gay men in the 1980's Lenny fell victim to the disease that decimated our community.

I was not a close friend of his, just a passing acquaintance, but he was an inspiration to me as an activist. He died on June 22, 1988. Ironically close to Gay Pride Day.

His tombstone bears the epitaph, "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." He will always be one of my heroes.

No comments: