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Guide to the Leonard Matlovich Papers, 1961-1988 (Bulk 1975-1988)
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Leonard Matlovich Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1961-1988 (Bulk 1975-1988)
    Accession number: 1988-01
    Creator: Matlovich, Leonard
    Extent: 4 Cubic Feet
    Repository: The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.
    San Francisco, California.
    Physical location: Housed at the GLBT Historical Society.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Before moving to Hollywood in April 1988, Leonard Matlovich transferred ownership of his personal papers to the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Historical Society. Archivist Bill Walker went through Matlovich's papers with him and helped select which materials would be transferred.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright to unpublished manuscript materials has been transferred to the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Leonard Matlovich Papers, 1988-01, The Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California.

    Biographical Note

    Leonard Matlovich was a decorated member of the United States Air Force. During his three tours of duty in Vietnam, he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Like his father, he was a career military man and was considered an outstanding technical sergeant when, on March 8, 1975, he wrote a letter to his commanding officer at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, in which acknowledged his homosexuality but requested that he be allowed to remain in the Air Force. The Air Force responded by expelling Matlovich with a general discharge. He took the Air Force to court to contest this decision and in November 1980, U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gessell in Washington, D.C. ordered the Air Force to reinstate Matlovich with back pay and the rank and salary that he would have obtained if he had not been discharged.
    In an out-of-court settlement with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, he agreed to drop his case in return for a settlement of $162,000, which included $98,000 compensation in addition to the $62,000 in back pay as well as having his discharge upgraded from a general to an honorable rating.
    This series of actions set him on a path that transformed him into a symbol for the gay community throughout the United States. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and his story was translated into a television documentary entitled "Sgt. Matlovich vs. the Air Force."
    After the settlement, Matlovich continued to fight for gay rights. He ran for public office, lectured, counseled gay men and women on their rights, and founded organizations such as the Matlovich Foundation and the Never Forget Foundation to fight for the rights of gays and lesbians. He was also deeply committed to the fight against racism. In fact, his experiences in the military as a lecturer about equal rights had spurred him into making his decision to come out.
    Matlovich was a very devout man. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, Matlovich converted from Catholicism to Mormonism and eventually became a minister. When he publicly came out, the Church of Latter Day Saints took him to an ecclesiastical court and eventually expelled him from the church.
    With the money that he received in the settlement, Matlovich started a small restaurant whose specialty was pizza in Guerneville, Ca., but he quickly tired of being a restauteur and sold it "as soon as I could make some money on my investment".
    In September 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Though he had been a long-term San Francisco resident, he finally decided to move to Hollywood in April 1988 because the hills of San Francisco were too much for him to navigate in his deteriorating condition. Less than two months later, on Wednesday, June 22, 1988, he died of AIDS in the home of a friend who was caring for him.

    Scope and Content

    This collection consists of correspondence, subject files, legal documents, photographs and personal mementos. The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence. The first series, for example, is correspondence from 1975 which he received after his story hit the national media. He arranged this incoming mail by the state or country of origin. His replies are filed with the letter to which he was responding.
    The second series is general correspondence in from 1961-1987. The arrangement is chronological. It should be noted that Matlovich had imposed no order on the vast majority of his personal papers. Therefore, the order found here has been imposed by the GLHS staff member who arranged the collection.
    The third series is also correspondence, but this series has been arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent and thereunder chronologically. Again, the arrangement was imposed by the staff member who processed the collection. The fourth series relates to his legal battle with the Air Force and includes copies of the various motions, briefs, orders, etc.
    The fifth series is a subject series. Again, the order found here was imposed, as Matlovich had kept these materials in no discernible order.
    The sixth series is comprised of photographs of Matlovich, his friends, and his family.
    The seventh series contains audiotapes as well as videotapes, including a copy of the made for television movie Sgt. Matlovich vs. the United States Air Force.
    Series eight consists of newspaper clippings arranged chronologically. The bulk of these are from October through December 1975.
    The final series is comprised of mementos, including the shrapnel removed from him after a land mine explosion in Vietnam, various military medals and awards, t-shirts, buttons, etc.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Gay men