A sparsely attended vigil was held this morning in Washington D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery at the grave site of Leonard Matlovich, the former U.S. Air Force Sergeant who was discharged in 1975 for disclosing that he was gay.
Matlovich is considered an icon in the LGBT Equality Rights movement for his advocacy on behalf gay and lesbian service members, and for his prominent, pioneering activist role nearly three decades ago.
He is the first gay service member to fight the ban on gays in the military. Matlovich’s photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of gay and lesbian service members.
Matlovich’s tombstone famously reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
The vigil is the first in a series of events scheduled for this week by activist groups including GetEqual to lobby the Senate for passage of the Defense Authorization Bill which includes the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal amendment.
Led by former U. S. Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, eight LGBT veterans paid homage to Matlovich in a simple wreath laying ceremony before traveling to Capitol Hill to the Senate offices of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
The group was met at the entrance to Reid’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building by U.S. Capitol police officers equipped with zip tie handcuffs in apparent readiness for any acts of civil disobedience by the veterans.
In a brief conversation with the Reid’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Choi, acting as group spokesman, asked when the Defense Authorization bill was due to go up for the Senate’s vote. He was told that there was no specific timing for scheduling the bill at this point.
The staffer, in response to Choi’s question as to whether or not Reid was committed to bring the measure to the Senate during the current “lame duck” session, replied that he didn’t know and then added that the White House has not been in contact with Senator Reid to discuss the legislative efforts.
Josh Campbell, a staffer for Sen. Levin, told Choi that their office also had not been contacted by the administration regarding the bill and the DADT repeal.
Later in the day Monday, Choi and twelve other gay rights activists were arrested after they handcuffed themselves to the White House’s north gate in a protest demonstration urging President Barack Obama to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”