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This is ideas and I'm Frank Morris. The subject of homosexual rights in the American military is the topic of tonight's ideas program and it's a topic that's been in the news much recently due to the case of Sergeant Joseph Matt Levitt an Air Force sergeant who came under fire from his Air Force superiors when he decided to go public to announce in public that he was a homosexual and intended to stay in the Air Force. His court martial ended last week and the advice of the court martial panel was the sergeant should be discharged from the Air Force because of his homosexual admissions. Well on tonight's program produced by National Public Radio in Washington we'll hear stardom at live edge talk about his Air Force career and some other thoughts on homosexual rights in the American military. First Sergeant Matt leverage. Or. Vietnam your first combination medals for Vietnam the Purple Heart was from Vietnam for having a my and I and the Meritorious Service medal was for my work in drug abuse and race relations in the Air Force.
When you just say for Vietnam it doesn't mean too much. What did you do. I mean don't be modest. Well that's nothing heroic all it all is just doing a job and doing it well and doing what I was supposed to do. Other people do what they're supposed to do and they don't get medals like I say I was just one of the fortunate ones that got him after three years in Vietnam you're bound to get something if you're not dead you mean right. If you're not dead right. Damian pretty well coming to hospital for four months took a time you know from you know my country tis of thee sweet land of liberty for America for apple pie and ice cream and I really feel what I'm doing today is no different than going to Vietnam before. I think it was a crime for every day that I haven't done what I have done. Well it was a crime not to turn myself in. The much decorated American airman is Tech Sergeant Leonard telep MCA fix who this spring and nods to his Air Force superiors that he is homosexual. The Air Force has begun steps to discharge him less than honorably from the force a
process that includes a hearing a ruling and the right to appeal Department of Defense policy until now has been cut and dried on this subject. Department of Defense policy requires prompt separation of homosexuals the homosexual person is considered unsuitable for military service and is not permitted to serve in the armed forces in any capacity. His presence in a military unit would seriously impair discipline good order morale and security. I think 12 years of that perfect military record proves this to be wrong because I am military myself till that point of time. The military had no idea whatsoever that I was gay that's what makes a good case that my perfect record and that I initiated all the paperwork but scared I guess as a Second most scared time in my life. A piece of paper to my boss. I never made a decision to do it until the final second and I had it and he read it. And up until that point I just didn't know if I
had the guts of the nerve nerve. Now that I've done it I would do it again and again and again with an air force assigned attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union helping him Sergeant Matvichuk plans to appeal through military and civil courts if necessary for this radio program. The Pentagon would give only a reluctance a read statement. I sneaked a tape recorder on to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia to get opinions from Sergeant Matt Rich's fellow airmen about homosexuality in the Air Force. It's just not right. Well according to my religion that's not right. Now I'm Baptist and I don't like it anywhere else. Marriage you know between a man or woman is one of the big things things are a religion you know sex really is true. So this is supposed to be something between a man or woman they're united and you know as a guy it's a it's not socially accepted by the
majority of population and I don't think can be condoned in the service and I met the guy and I didn't know who he was I sort of like to have a friend that's a person you know I didn't even register the name and I only did a have a long it's been. But only today have I heard somebody really talking about it negative or. Negative. Well I work with a purty Poisson. Come on with the sissy act now coming down on him for being hyped for sex. My opinions as to who this this guy served 12 years and what I understand everybody that I've run across a few people that have ever run into him in the 12 years because I couldn't believe it. This guy conducts himself in a fantastic completely enforced manner and why shouldn't he be able to continue if he's not hurt need Air Force
this is something in his private life which I believe a year or so some to say about Sergeant mathematics himself describes what led him to come out after 12 years in the Air Force and three distinguished tours of duty in Vietnam my father was 31 years in the Air Force I was born on Air Force Base I graduated from the Air Force high school the Air Force and my background. Major in school is political science American history. I've always been politically minded. In 1963 I was living in England. Graduate from high school in England and the Vietnam War was just beginning and at that time I was a right wing flag waving American and I want to do my part for my country to make it a better place and to spread democracy so-called around the world. So I have a patriotic duty I join your force and I just couldn't prove enough to my country hey look what I'm doing for you and I'm doing these things for America. You know except except me being a Homosexual be one reason proving that I was just as
much a man as anyone else at the time I thought I was going to live the whole world becoming aware of being homosexual. Was that before you went into the military. Well that's a very difficult question. It's a very difficult question to answer. If you're a homosexual you know it. But to be able to accept it is something else to be said to have it and. It's always in the subconscious and you always know this because of this stigma in America of being a homosexual. You put it in the farthest back parts of your mind just try to push it right out. It was about. Two years ago did I begin to come to the ford part of my mind. I became consciously aware of it. Before it was subconscious cry suppress and suppress and suppress it and the harder I suppose to suppress it the more I knew that hey what am I doing to myself. I can even give you this. Well I was a white racist. I didn't care
for blacks at all. And I also believe this is part of being a homosexual to time. Because. If there were some of the totem pole lower than me because I did have a sort of very low self image at the time and I thought well there are some of the lower on the totem pole that I was that I wasn't the lowest creature on earth. So by putting blacks down at the time it put elevated me also. Not only did I put blacks down but I put other homosexuals down out of my way to put them down trying to prove to other people see I put them down and therefore I am not like that. So today sometimes I have to question this when I hear per person who really puts homosexuals down and goes out of his way to put him down or her way or whatever the case may be. I kind of with a question mark in my mind saying why are you so afraid of him What are you trying to hide. The Department of Defense has an obligation and responsibility to provide our young men and women in the armed forces with the most wholesome and healthful and firemen possible. When you first come in they ask you I think come right out and they ask if you have any
homosexual traits. During basic They sit and they watch you take notes and keep a record on you. I think it's pretty strange homosexual persons cannot be accepted into our armed forces and must be promptly separated when so identify the unique character of the military environment both ashore and at sea precludes any possibility of their assimilation within a military organization under any conditions. New troops come in. He's a tech sergeant right he's going to be getting people under rank. Think I can see where it is if I can Amman or somebody came. He wanted a good job rating. It's the same thing is like they're always kidding about the last now us he's got a good case. This policy is considered to be absolutely essential to the effectiveness of our armed forces and to the morale and welfare of its members.
I can say one thing about homosexuals. Of the tens of hundreds of Vietnamese American children who are fatherless now at least homosexuals cannot be credited with that catastrophe. Thank you going to always be better than the other troops you know and that he going to do is he going to be looking for one man like you might touch him with something he might be known. You see how you try to make a pass and get to that in a minute. Everyone seems to assume the homosexuals are people who cannot control their emotions you know they they. Won't you know they just can't. That's absurd. For 30 years I have seen not only do I control my emotions but I was a virgin for 30 years and if I can do it for 30 years I will so I can do in a battlefield four months from a submarine for however long no danger except for maybe. If the dude makes it known that he is a homosexual then from there on if you have a hard time working they put you in the venue that say someone finds out that so-and-so was
homosexual. It would be great on the homosexual life I think he will lose all the friends who associate with approached the homosexual and he try to make a pass or whatever I think I try to kill him. There's a lot of people who feel that way. The very very same thing was said by the leaders of this country for admitting black Americans and Jews integrated units. No they said we have to keep segregated units because if you let the black Americans in the integrate units integrate units are going to collapse the morale is going to collapse because the blacks are there. Morality is not as high as white Americans. What it is people who know absolutely nothing about homosexuality are making decisions on homosexuality from pure ignorance. Can you tell me what led to your consciousness being raised to the extent that you realized why you were a racist and why you needed to. You know be overtly anti homosexual.
Okay I first joined the Air Force. It was really the first time I. Came. Communication in touch with black Americans. And before this time I was basically raised in Charleston South Carolina. Where I went through most. Of my schooling. And all white neighborhoods. And when I joined the Air Force my first supervisor was black and he had a business law degree and I first met him I said this guy gave him that green old black Americans I know about you people you know. I've heard all about you know you really can't learn you're illiterate all these things and I kind of believe those things. Maybe I wanted to believe him. I don't know where this man must of saw something in me that I didn't see in myself because a lot of time with me a lot of effort and he destroyed one stereotype about blacks one after another after another after another and the more I learned about him the more I learned how very very wrong I was. I was a white racist. So as I learned more and more about black Americans I begin to see begin to relate to them and I
related to myself trying to hide my own identity. I think she them but again I don't you know I'm sitting with a guy and maybe I need a month or starting to get a civil disobedient war torn off. I don't think so because a man was sick and that was made to play with a woman and you know a woman always claimed it was meant to play with a man you know and not you know man with man and women I mean they were not made fun of that those things you know it's I'm not sure it's really a mention on. And it's a man Tony knows that's what it is when a mental illness. He has an excellent record. The people it has worked for him in the past have an illness and that he was almost there as a homosexual until recently. So we can't say how it will affect the mission until you know later on if I'm working for someone and he's a member of a
group such as this which is the first that has came out you know it's gone have a pretty big impact on my feelings towards this man not because I'm afraid but because the way he is to me is morally wrong. Some people believe that premarital sex is wrong. But if I went down to the hospital today. I'm not married and if I asked him to put me on birth control pills so I could go out and have premarital do it. But in the in some people's mind that is wrong. OK what's the difference. I think it would jeopardize our position as a leader. We must maintain his position. If you put a leader in a position of control groups this is going to be a missing sergeant or a master sergeant in the Air Force.
Twenty years probably 20 years doing it right. Keep going be doing I'm a member of a particular minority group that are going to America that very Air Force I did against a particular minority. This guy the airport is considered a security risk. This guy put the statement is no longer a security risk and I believe that this guy can conduct himself in the way form. I want the ones who go blackmail me to begin with. You know that's a way of justifying your discrimination first or you make some law you say well because again law you're going to be blackmailed.
So you're therefore you're justifying what you're doing you're reinforcing your own prejudice Rose combination. It's estimated that 10 percent of US population have no reason to believe that the forces of game possibly even higher. I want you to tell me more about the source of that to do so. I wish I could you know I have tons and tons of proof. I just wish I could give it to you but only individuals can choose for themselves to come forward. I cannot choose for anyone else. Might some percent statistic comes from the Kinsey Institute. They've done a study here in the United States and. They feel that. From 10 to possibly 15 percent of the U.S. population may be gay. They range from 5 to 15 they put it in there and there is no way of really knowing because in this not just the military but in this class in this entire country it's very clandestine. Because we're the most discriminated against people in America today were openly this criminal. There are laws against us working there are laws against us living in homes we can be just thrown out
any time we want to be degrading to the service man and man live in close quarters and reflect on their fighting morale having to tolerate obscene gestures actions by other people. I used to believe those very same things about homosexuals. I thought I was the only one in the whole world at one time and I've never met one. But I've heard what other people said about them. And I remember in Florida when I was teaching race relations a student one of my classes and this is before I came out this is when I was still a closet. A student one of my classes said. That. He and his wife stopped in Pensacola Florida and they stopped at this restaurant bar combination and they didn't know it was a gay bar. And I said the meal was very nice but then he said the floor show started. And when the floor shows. 14 year old boys came out which star Were you waiting on the tables with nothing on but jock
straps. And he said as they were walking around people were pulling their jockstraps off of him molest them right in the bar. And I said my guy you know homosexuals really like. And I knew I was one OK at the time and it really shook me up and then he said every time I walk into the bathroom 50 guys got up and followed me in there. I said God you know and I like that I don't think so I never had desire to follow you in the bathroom. And that really shook me up. But I remembered all the stereotypes I used to have about black Americans. And heard about the black male the super stud very animalistic that they were illiterate and that their houses would be dirty and all these things and I believe those. So when I got in there and I went to consecrate about 40 miles away to a gay bar will never compare to the fear I had going into that gay bi the first time because all my stereotypes were there it was. It must take me a half hour just to get the nerve to grab this quarter. And every time I take one step further and run out walking and run out and walking and run out I finally looked around the corner and saw all these people there and countrified I ran
out the moon sweating and shaking I finally got the nerve and went out in the bar. And it was different. I did it the first time I saw two guys dancing together I laughed I mean it was just so funny to me to see two guys dancing together at last. I sat down and I was still shaking and I started talking to the individuals in there and pretty soon I. Come to find out I was talking to doctors and I was talking to lawyers and gas station attendants and plumbers and carpenters and just a cross-section of America. There were no 14 year old boys waiting on tables. No one followed me into the bathroom. And I guess about a million pounds left my back that night. I found out you know these are human beings. I can speak from my own experience. But since I've turned myself and it is my straight friends and the Straits days have come to me with the most support and. It's mostly the people I'd say
30 and under in age. Many people have come up to me on bass in the hallway. And said hey you know while we're I'm not gay but we're behind you 100 percent we think you have a right to be you know what you want to be it's like you don't violate anyone else's rights. Half a dozen bother anybody else situation you know people and see is no big deal. You're in other countries like that they walk around holding trying to think you know nobody else I don't see why you know I should just let it go at that. I don't see why they should kick him out. What do you want to be. I guess maybe dampen down and I don't have that against myself and you don't have any choice over it even if it's legalized or not legalized whatever something's going to be there you know like a system that you can have to watch out of here you know and be on the defensive or you don't have a choice. You know no matter what screening you do everybody has some homosexual tendencies just their bodies are different.
Grace I think people are uptight about it because they're afraid of it except the fact that there are homosexuals and that it isn't necessarily around and the military is you know I guess you could say against it because the military originally the military was supposed to be you know to fight a war that part of what you had to be a man you had to be masculine is that and homosexuality tends to say well you're not a man and if you're not a man you can't really be a soldier. But that's no longer true and homosexuality is not necessarily a curse when other than a man because you can be a man super masculine and I think that it should be allowed and that a person who. This type of person the sin that be discriminated against simply because of his sex habits. We all have our own hang ups you might say. That's the hang of it. I don't know my name is David Sullivan and with me is Frank Kameny who is a commissioner with the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission and is also active in gay rights issues. I'd like to begin by asking you with all the news stories about matter which is coming out in the Air Force. I wonder if some people might not have a wrong
impression namely an impression that there were very few that there in fact none that in fact much of it was the first gay person to ever serve in the United States military. No. As a good estimate probably a little bit conservative about 10 percent of our population men and women both are gay. The military's detection and screening process they use their propaganda notwithstanding has always been and will be inherently and basically ineffective. They don't protect people. And therefore as anybody in the gay community knows 10 percent of our armed services are and always have been and always will be gay. And that applies at all ranks officers and enlisted men both in all services Army Navy Air Force and Marine Corps so that he is not at all novel he is simply a good test case I've been searching for one for about 15 years and he came along and then he's a perfect case and he and I got got the case together and have moved forward. You say he's a perfect case why is that.
He has an impeccable record unblemished. He wants to stay in. He's a career man. So he's been in for quite a while and is willing to fight the case on basic principles all the way through the world it's not a case of one of these. Yes you did no i didn't kind of cases where you go in on facts. He's going to set the facts out and then say that these are not impropriety disqualifying would be a first statement to say that there have been gays in the military as long as there has been military reserve or Especially in particular the U.S. military. Yes certainly there have been gays in the military as long as there's been a military in any country and of course in other eras and other ages as one can see by reading some of the classical Greek literature attitudes toward us were very very different. Do you have any specific historical mentions that you can think of gays in the military. Oh well I don't come up with anything specifically at the moment. There have been
a number of individuals throughout history. In actuality our attribution ranging all the way from Alexander the Great to Frederick the Great to innumerable others including significant numbers of privates sergeants majors and generals in our army today who have contacted me as this case has proceeded. There are a lot in our Army Navy Air Force and Marines again. All other people in the military have contacted you. Oh yes very much so and I've gotten. Countless calls in connection with the amount of education my people have well for this that or the other reason I can't come forward. But good luck in what you're doing we're all with you. And of course over the years I've assisted a large numbers of gay people who have had problems with the military so I've served as council advisor and so on so that I'm very familiar with the situation. You say this extends up the chain of the chain of command all the way to generals. Oh yes absolutely. Do gays make good soldiers or another way of
asking it is there any reason why gays wouldn't make good soldiers. We make as good and as bad and as indifferent soldiers sailors marines an airman as anybody else does to the best of my knowledge and what I've seen of the gay community in their records we see statistically in all averaged out gay service people do just as well as non gay service people there was really no distinction whatsoever. So you're telling me then that there were no dangers there were no security risks no risks whatsoever. And having gays in the military. There has not. With regard to security and I broaden it for that question beyond the military. There has not been one single publicized case in this country of improper disclosure of classified information secret information in which homosexuality was involved. There have been sizeable numbers in which heterosexuality and heterosexuals were involved. And I have that on the highest of all authority.
Why then this disc. I mean it's almost impossible to hear that either the State Department or the military talk about gays without mentioning the fact that there are security risks why the connection between there is a widespread stereotype of all homosexuals as cringing invariably submissive victims of endless blackmail attempts. Now first of all the number of such blackmail attempts in any context of cars is very very sizable a small or a tiny fraction of what is commonly believed. Secondly such attempts as usually occur are almost invariably for money. Thirdly they offer they offer far more often rejected than submitted to. Now finally. I think that. This whole allegation coming from the government is one of the most flagrant examples of governmental irresponsibility that I have ever seen in my life. If the government is genuinely afraid it is not genuinely afraid of disclosure of secrets instead of what it is really afraid of. Which
is the bad publicity and political impact that will come back at them if its known they have homosexuals. They will go after the disclosure of secrets and not after the homosexuals which means that. Set up a machinery so that individual homosexual or otherwise is in fact subjected to a blackmail attempt. He can go somewhere and say to someone in authority I am being subject to a blackmail attempt for secret information. Help me and know he will get help with out and suing disadvantage. Instead as anyone who is anything but naive knows if you try that whatever problems you may have had with the blackmail and the blackmail will pale into insignificance compared with the problems you will have with the assault which that will then be mounted upon you by your own government because heaven forfend you are a homosexual. And it's very very clear that this is simply a political excuse to get rid of homosexuals and maintaining secrecy and safeguarding secrets has absolutely nothing whatever to do with what is going on I really don't get the government really doesn't care a damn about secrets at all it wouldn't handle it this way.
Homosexual rights in the US military a program produced by National Public Radio in Washington DC with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. We welcome your comments and suggestions on this series. Our address is ideas. WGBH radio Boston owed twenty one 34 and just a reminder next Wednesday October 1st. Ideas moves to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday right here on WGBH radio. For ideas I'm Frank Fitzmaurice and this is the eastern Public Radio Network.
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Homosexual Rights In the Military
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NPR's program on Leonard Matlovich, Vietnam veteran and subject of military court martial by the Air Force for being a gay man. Matlovich is discussed in the wider context of gays in the military.
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Gay Rights; Gays Legal status, laws, etc.; gays in the military; Matlovich, Leonard; Veterans United States; Court marshals United States; United States. Air Force
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Chicago: “Ideas; Homosexual Rights In the Military,” 1975-09-18, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 29, 2023,
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