'A Perfect Soldier': Remembering A Warrior In The Battle Against Homophobia When Leonard Matlovich showed up on Time with the headline "I Am a Homosexual," it shocked many. The decorated Vietnam veteran spent the end of his life advocating against anti-gay discrimination.
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'A Perfect Soldier': Remembering A Warrior In The Battle Against Homophobia

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'A Perfect Soldier': Remembering A Warrior In The Battle Against Homophobia

'A Perfect Soldier': Remembering A Warrior In The Battle Against Homophobia

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's time for StoryCorps, which we hear each Friday morning. And today, we have a conversation from the StoryCorps OutLoud Project, which collects LGBTQ stories. In the fall of 1975, Time Magazine featured a decorated Vietnam veteran named Leonard Matlovich on the cover. The headline was "I Am A Homosexual." This marked the first time an openly gay man appeared on the cover of a major national newsmagazine. Matlovich was challenging the military ban on gay service members. And at StoryCorps, his friend Jeff Dupre remembered how it happened.

JEFF DUPRE: I don't know a lot of people that called him Leonard. Everyone called him Matt. I had met him at a Thanksgiving dinner. We were sitting in the living room, and we were watching the Macy's Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day. He didn't say too much at all until someone started saying, Matt, what are you up to? And that's when Matt opened up. He said, well, you know, they're looking for a candidate to challenge the gays-in-the-military laws. They're looking for an officer preferably - someone who has a good record - to make it legal to be in the service and be open. I've got these awards from the service. I think I can do it. And the guy said, Matt, no way, you're too quiet, you're not out, you're not ready for that. Well, the subject changed, and that was about it for that day.

DAVID PHILLIPS: Tell me about the day you saw him on the cover of Time Magazine.

DUPRE: I mean, it was pretty wild. There it was on the rack. He was glancing up, shiny eyes, curly hair, with the headline "I Am A Homosexual." And I just stared at it. I just couldn't believe it. When he called, all I could do was tell him how proud I was of him. And then I didn't hear from him for a while. And he died of AIDS. He was young - 44 years old. I didn't even know he was sick. He was buried in D.C., and his headstone does not have his name on it. It strictly says gay Vietnam veteran. And the inscription on it is - when I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one. He was the epitome of a perfect soldier, one of those people that stuck his neck out, and he was proud to be the person to challenge that law.

INSKEEP: That's Jeff Dupre being interviewed by his husband, remembering Leonard Matlovich who was discharged from the Air Force in 1975. The interview is archived at the Library of Congress, and now it is easier than ever for you to be a part of history. You can record your story this Thanksgiving weekend. Find the details at npr.org. Search The Great Listen.

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