Today is Memorial Day in the US. Many tend to celebrate today as the unofficial beginning of summer. Break out your bathing suits, sunscreen and yes, you can finally wear your white jeans without calling them “winter whites”. Who doesn’t love a three-day weekend? Barbeques, beach days and mega sales at every shopping venue and better still… the promise of a warmer weather for a couple of months to come. That’s all well and good, but in truth, this is a day of remembrance.
Over a million service men and women have given their lives in the service of our country. If you aren’t in the military or don’t have family or friends who have served, it’s easier than it should be to overlook their sacrifice. We tend to take our freedom for granted. We forget about the soldiers and pioneers who heroically fight battles for us daily. And we forget that not all battles are fought with weapons. Sometimes, they’re fought by simply standing up for what is right at the risk of losing everything.
On days like today, I can’t help thinking of the LGBT soldiers who sacrificed their lives and their truths in order to serve. The photo of gay Vietnam war hero, Leonard Matlovich’s headstone with the simple inscription, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” is a poignant reminder of this. It was designed by Matlovich, a Vietnam war hero, Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, who was also a gay man. He was a hero on the battlefield and again a decade later when he purposely outed himself to fight the military’s ban on gays.
Matlovich was the first openly gay man to be photographed on the cover of Time magazine, which in 1975 was a big fucking deal. No one talked about homosexuality back then at all. To tell his truth on the largest platform, knowing he’d be met with disdain and anger was beyond brave. His actions were pivotal to the LGBT movement. Matlovich was a true pioneer in a fight for equality before anyone thought to fight in the first place. Before he died in 1988 from complications of AIDS he explained his reasoning for commissioning his headstone. “I knew, for example, that when Americans went to the Vietnam Memorial to remember and honor those who gave their lives fighting that horrible war, it never occurred to them that some of those who were the strongest, bravest and most heroic were also gay.” He urged those who were able to tell their story, “to find a method of leaving a lasting record of our accomplishments- including the acknowledgment that you were lesbian or gay”. To be activists in life and in death.
This message is extraordinarily powerful. As we plan our day at the beach or the ballpark, it should give us pause. Hopefully, we all take a moment to reflect on the incredible bravery of those who put others before themselves for the greater good. Truly, there are no words… Thank you. We will not forget.
…And I want you to look at the flag, our rainbow flag, and I want you to look at it with pride in your heart, because we too have a dream. And what is our dream? Ours is more than an American dream. It’s a universal dream.– Leonard Matlovich 1943-1988