Plaque Dedicated to First Nat'l Visible Gay Service Member
"When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
The well-known and well-respected epitaph above, which recognizes gay LGBT rights pioneer Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, can now be read in two places that honor the former Air Force sergeant - his headstone at his burial site in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, and a new plaque honoring Matlovich in San Francisco, Ca.
Dedicated at a ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 15 held at San Francisco's LGBT Community Center, the plaque honors the contributions of Matlovich to the fight against the ban on gay and lesbian service in the military.
A Vietnam War veteran, Matlovich appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1975 with the headline "I Am a Homosexual: The Gay Drive for Acceptance" - a full eighteen years before the ‘one step forward, two steps back' enactment of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" brought the struggle of gay and lesbian military personnel into the public eye.
The TIME story followed the sergeant's legal struggle to continue serving in the military after coming out to his commanding officers, including his lawsuit against the secretary of the Air Force.
Although Matlovich was not allowed to service his country in the armed forces again, his lawsuit paved the way for a vital change in military policy in 1981 that allowed gay troops to be discharged honorably instead of dishonorably. He was also the first nationally visible gay service member.
In addition to his epitaph, the full plaque also reads:
"In 1975, Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovish, USAF, winner of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, made the military's ban on gays a national issue when he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. He was arrested at the White House fighting against AIDS and always fought for full LGBT equality."
The plaque is permanently located at the corner of 18th and Castro where Matlovich lived before dying from AIDS in 1988.
More information on the current state of the military's ban on LGBT service members, including "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," can be found in GLAAD's Veteran's Day Resource Kit for Journalists.
Plaque dedicated to Sgt. Matlovich in SF (left). Photo from Towleroad. Headstone dedicated to Sgt. Matlovich in Washington, DC (right). Photo from Flickr user dbking.