Thank you to SSgt. Robert LeBlanc: A ‘gay military rights pioneer’

Posted on 03 Sep 2010 at 10:45pm

Here’s some important gay history.

On this date in 1976, SSgt. Robert LeBlanc received an honorable discharge from the United States Marines. Michael Bedwell from LeonardMatlovich.com posted LeBlanc’s story:

Heroic LtCol. Victor Fehrenbach was not the first gay servicemember to seek a restraining order to stop his discharge. One of the first filed was by gay military rights pioneer SSgt. Robert LeBlanc. And on September 3, 1976, almost a year-to-the-day after USAF TSgt. Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of TIME in relation to outing himself to try to end the ban, LeBlanc finally received an honorable discharge after defeating the US Marine Corps’ three attempts to give him a less-than-honorable one.

LeBlanc had served for 12 years, including two tours in Vietnam, had been awarded multiple medals including a Purple Heart, and been the Military Police Chief for all of Los Angeles County. Administrative discharge boards had voted twice to retain him when no evidence was submitted that he was gay other than claims by men LeBlanc had disciplined as a narcotics enforcement officer with the MPs. When asked directly if he was gay, LeBlanc told his superiors and the boards, “You have no right to ask the question!”—the kind of response the military does not like to hear. Gen. Louis H. Wilson, then-Commandant of the Marines, insisted that the accusations alone were adequate proof he was unsuitable, and ordered him discharged with the less-than-honorable designation which limits the kind of benefits a veteran can receive. The local MCC organized a then-rare protest of his treatment outside the gates of Marine Barracks, Terminal Island, Long Beach, California.

LeBlanc requested a restraining order in federal court, and no less than now-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was one of the two Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges who, while not ruling the ban itself was wrong, surprisingly ordered the Marines either give him an honorable discharge or retain him until his case could go to trial. They chose the former.

It’s hard enough to fight a discharge in 2010. Imagine the courage it took in 1976. Christ, it took courage to just come out in 1976. We really do stand on the shoulders of people like Robert LeBlanc.

Thanks, Robert.




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