I have no lover right now,” says Leonard Matlovich. “I am not attached.” Time is one reason. The former Air Force sergeant, who was discharged in October because of his admitted homosexuality, has turned his misfortune into a crusade. He is setting up the Matlovich Foundation for Civil Rights, which will deal also with blacks and women but concentrate on denial of rights to gays.
“We want to flood the courts with gay cases,” Matlovich says, “and the military will be a prime target. There are enough of us around now.” The foundation will probably be based in Columbus, Ohio, and Matlovich is out hustling funds and support almost without letup these days.
“I’m meeting people I’d never in my wildest imagination think to meet,” he says, “Joe Papp, Rep. Barbara Jordan, politicians and historians.” Who has he found to be unsympathetic to his cause? “Besides the Air Force, there’s Senator Jackson.”
And yet Matlovich still pines for the Air Force, where he spent 12 years, including three tours in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. “It was very sad,” he says of his decision to challenge the regulations against homosexuality in the armed forces. “But I’d do it again and again and again. I’ve been singled out for attention only because of human suffering. If there had been no suffering, if hearts had already been changed, I would not be in the lime-light now. I guess I wish that it had not been necessary.”
To his surprise, his most sympathetic backers in the services have been blacks. “Before this happened,” the 32-year-old Georgia-born Matlovich admits, “I was a white racist. Now all the people I couldn’t stand politically are helping me. Not only was I in the sexual closet, I was in the political closet too.”
Matlovich is appealing his ouster in federal court and has decided to write a book. Meanwhile he shares an apartment in Alexandria, Va. with a friend who is the public relations director of his new movement. Matlovich sometimes takes a nostalgic look in one of his real closets. “All my uniforms are hanging up,” he says. “I’d go back in a second.”