by p.j. prokop
reprinted with permission of the collegian
Amid cheers and applause T-Sgt. Leonard Matlovich last night told 500 student, "I was tired of living a lie -- I thought being gay meant ... molesting little kids or wearing a dress."
Matlovich, brought to UMass by the People's Gay Alliance, recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine, is a 12 year veteran of the Air Force and recipient of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for duty in Vietnam.
In an exclusive Collegian interview yesterday he said, "I was in fear of losing my job, afraid I would be discovered."
Matlovich has been given a general discharge by the Air Force and said he hopes "to be out within a month."
He said, "The gay question is no different than the race question, I am seeking a ruling from the courts to allow homosexuals in the service."
Matlovich, who is collecting $800 unemployment until he is finally discharged said the media has been very helpful and said he is willing to speak "anytime, anyplace."
Money raised from the speaking engagements will go to a fund for lobbyists and lawyers willing to handle gay cases, "all I ask for is a roof, food, and clothing."
He said they hope to raise a million dollars.
UMass is the first school to host Matlovich and he is scheduled to appear on the Mike Douglas Show, as well as touring the college circuit.
Asked about supporters Matlovich said he felt the hearing he was given was "very fair," and "many individuals support me privately, but not publicly."
At yesterday's press conference Matlovich said, "I was a white racist and I hated homosexuals."
Concerning his treatment in the Air Force Matlovich said, "They have bent over backwards to be nice to me," and added, "we may have lost the battle but we will win the war." He said, "you can change the laws but you've got to change people's hearts."
Last night in the Student Union Ballroom he began by making a dance announcement and interjected humor by saying he would be nervous because he had never spoken to a group of more than 25 people before.
Matlovich told the group of this desire when he entered the Air Force at 19 to go to Vietnam to serve and "Goldwater was my political idol."
"I began to hate myself because I was gay, I thought I was all alone. I would pray to God to make me like other people and take this curse from me, " he said.
He said, "until we as gays are proud of ourselves, no one will be. Homosexuals have no role-models to follow."
Matlovich said he came not only for people who wanted to hear him speak, but also for those "who wanted to see that faggot."
Matlovich cited blacks as an example for gays to follow, "they lead the way, we (gays) were robbed of our identity."
The 32-year-old Matlovich said for thirty years he never touched another person, except for family, and he's been making up for it.
Matlovich said, "the oppressed people have become the oppressor, gay is as good as it is bad."
He said he is not just working for gays but is "trying to guarantee the rights of all American citizens."