Leonard Matolovich served in the United States Air Force as a pilot from 1963 to 1975. It was there that he made history for the LGBT community. In 1975, after twelve years of service, three tours of duty and earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, he came out to his officers as homosexual, making him the first person to out themselves in the fight against the military’s ban on gay service members. Before coming out, he’d spent much of his life hiding his identity, even going so far as to mock other homosexuals in an attempt to assimilate. He knew that there were others like him in the military, but the ban kept them closeted in fear of discharge. This was exactly what happened to Matolovich. Only six months following his coming out, a three member panel discharged him from the military because of his refusal to sign an agreement to “never practice homosexuality again”.
Because of the lawsuit, the military’s ban was brought to the media’s attention. Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the first openly gay person to be featured on the cover of a US publication. After his discharge, he continued to fight against the military ban and became a public figure in the LGBT community. He helped with fundraising and advocating against anti-gay discrimination, specifically efforts to overturn a gay nondiscrimination ordinance and prevent a ban on gay teachers in California.
Matlovich passed away from AIDS in 1988 when he was only 44. Instead of being inscribed with his name, his tombstone reads “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” His bravery to come out in unsure circumstances began the fight for equality for servicemen and women in our armed forces. Today, LGBT people are able to serve our country proudly.
About LGBTQ+ of FIRST
LGBTQ+ of FIRST is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ participants in FIRST Robotics. LGBTQ+ of FIRST was started to spread visibility of the LGBTQ+ community within FIRST and help teams become safe spaces for their members.