“They gave me a medal for killing two men, and a dishonorable discharge for loving one.”

-Leonard Matlovich

This post was written by our summer intern Megan, a MLIS student at Dominican University.

All month we’ve been posting in honor of Pride month, and this week we will hear Studs’ 1975 interview with Leonard Matlovich, a former member of the United States Air Force who was discharged because he was gay.

Leonard Matlovich had a long and established history with the United States Air Force. His father was in the Air Force, and Matlovich himself was born on an Air Force base, graduated from an Air Force high school, and achieved most of his higher education through the Air Force. Furthermore, Matlovich was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his superior service. Despite his dedicated service for the United States, when Matlovich informed his superior officer that he was gay, he was immediately processed to be discharged from the Air Force. In this interview with Studs, Matlovich explains that he wanted to stop this kind of discrimination and oppression of gay people.

Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

Matlovich’s gravestone at the Congressional Cemetery. Matlovich’s gravesite functions as a memorial site for LGBT activists.

Much of Studs’ interview with Matlovich focuses on the pain that comes from having to hide who one is. Throughout most of his time in the Air Force, Matlovich had to hide his true identity, and this terrible pain turned into hatred towards other groups of people. After admitting to himself that he was gay and finally coming out, Matlovich’s hatred toward others was eradicated, and he was finally able to love himself. He explains to Studs, “You can’t love others until you love yourself, and as long as you hate yourself, you’re going to hate others.”

Ultimately, Leonard fought his discharge, and attended a military hearing regarding his status. Approximately twenty witnesses came to Matlovich’s aid. In September of 1975, base commander Alton J. Thogersen suggested that Matlovich’s discharge be upgraded to an “Honorable” status. In October of the same year, his discharge was officially upgraded to an Honorable Discharge.

Matlovich explains in his interview with Studs that anything less than equality and justice is not tolerated in this country. The theme of this interview is freedom–the freedom to be who you want and love who you want. Unfortunately, Leonard Matlovich passed away from HIV-related complications in 1988 at the age of 44. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive honors Leonard Matlovich, the LGBT community, and those who have lost their lives due to HIV/AIDS.

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