Leonard Matlovich grave
1801 E Street, S.E.
Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich’s (1943-1988) tombstone reads “Never Again, Never Forget — A Gay Vietnam Veteran — When I was in the military they gave me a metal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Matlovich, who did three tours of duty in Vietnam and earned a bronze star, was discharged from the Air Force in 1975 when he publicly declared his homosexuality. After three years of fighting the decision, Matlovich won his case and was given the opportunity to be reinstated in the USAF or settle. He chose to settle and donated some of his money to lesbian and gay organizations, including the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The rest he used to open a pizza parlor in Guerneville, the gay resort on the Russian River north of San Francisco, which he operated until illness made it impossible for him to work.
Matlovich succumbed to AIDS in 1988 and received a veteran’s burial in Washington, D.C., complete with caisson, eight-member honor guard, and an Air Force bugler playing taps. But gay activists were his pallbearers, and his mourners carried lavender flags. “I’ve always been gay,” Matlovich once said, “and for most of my life I prayed not to be that way…. However, the harder I prayed the queerer I got. That must have been God’s response.”