Indiana Daily Student

LGBT community celebrates life of Leonard Matlovich

Michael Bedwell speaks about what it was like to be a member of the GLBT community and in the armed forces at the Lilly Library on Thursday as a part of GLBT History Month. Bedwell's discussion centered around his friend and prominent GLBT figure, Leonard Matlovich, who was discharged from the military after coming out in 1975. Michael Bedwell is the former president of the gay rights group at Indiana University.
Michael Bedwell speaks about what it was like to be a member of the GLBT community and in the armed forces at the Lilly Library on Thursday as a part of GLBT History Month. Bedwell's discussion centered around his friend and prominent GLBT figure, Leonard Matlovich, who was discharged from the military after coming out in 1975. Michael Bedwell is the former president of the gay rights group at Indiana University.

With a priest and multiple veterans to his left, Michael Bedwell handcuffed himself to the black iron fence encircling the White House.

In the last peaceful protest against the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, each of the 13 activists were led away, one by one, to jail.

Instead of being charged with a municipal ordinance, Bedwell said a lawyer for the United States Department of the Interior decided it would be better to charge the group with a federal offense.

“I think what it falls down to is someone in the administration decided that we had embarrassed the administration too many times, and so they were going to try to discourage any more from happening,” Bedwell said.

The group came to a plea deal. It was 2010, just one month away from the official repeal of the DADT policy.

Bedwell discussed the history of American military bans based on sexual preferences Thursday evening at the Lincoln Room in the Lilly Library.

The talk, co-sponsored by Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services office, the Kinsey Institute, Outlaw and IU Veteran Support Services, came as a celebration for LGBT History Month and the 40th anniversary of Leonard Matlovich’s outing himself to the U.S. Air Force in 1975.

Introducing Bedwell to a room of about 40, Doug Bauder, coordinator of the GLBTSSS office, outlined Bedwell’s varied accomplishments as an educator, historian and advocate.

“This evening I’m pleased to introduce him in a role that perhaps is his most significant role, that of a loyal friend,” Bauder said.

Matlovich, a close friend of Bedwell’s, was discharged from the Air Force after coming out and became the face of LGBT advocacy after he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September 1975.

“It was fun to become friends with one of my heroes,” Bedwell said of Matlovich. “But he was my hero before he was my friend.”

When Matlovich died in 1988, he was buried in a cemetery plot with a nameless tombstone that he purchased to serve as a memorial to gay veterans, despite being elligble to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.

In his talk, Bedwell outlined the treatment of LGBT bans within the American military dating back to 1908 to provide context for Matlovich’s advocacy work.

He made note of the varying severities of discrimination throughout multiple wars, where thousands of military personnel where dishonorably discharged because of their sexuality.

“The American military did not just discharge gay men and women and bisexuals,” Bedwell said. “They taught America to hate gays. If you went into the military and you weren’t homophobic already, you would be by the time you left.”

He traced the history through all major branches of the military during the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, when Matlovich served.

“He raised consciousness for the people who, for them, was first person who gave them permission to love themselves and accept themselves,” Bedwell said. “His main message was come out, come out, come out. Accept yourself, accept yourself, accept yourself.”

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