California’s LGBT Veterans Memorial bill clears hurdle

CATHEDRAL CITY — A State bill that would make a Cathedral City memorial California’s official LGBT Veterans Memorial cleared a legislative hurdle today in Sacramento.

The Senate Governmental Organization Committee approved AB 2439, which also would make California the first state to dedicate a memorial recognizing the service of LGBT veterans.

LGBT Veterans

This plaque is part of the LGBT Veterans Memorial at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. A bill is making its way through the State Senate that would designate the monument California’s official LGBT Veterans Memorial. Photo: Office of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.


Thomas Swann Hernandez, a veteran and gay rights advocate who spearheaded the initial push to dedicate the Cathedral City memorial in 2001, gave testimony before the committee.

“If AB 2439 becomes law, California will become the first state in America to honor the brave sacrifices of LGBT veterans. Many of these heroes died in silence because they were forced to conceal their sexual orientation,” Hernandez said. “California should lead the country in honoring these brave soldiers.”

Hernandez is the founder and Commander of American Veterans Post 66 in Palm Springs as well as the founder and president of Veterans For Peace of the Inland Empire. In 1993-94, the ACLU represented Hernandez in a historic complaint against the U.S. Navy that prompted Navy Secretary John Dalton to add sexual orientation protection in the Navy’s Equal Employment Opportunity policies for civilian employees.

LGBT Veterans Memorial

California could be the first state in the union to have an official LGBT veterans memorial. AB 2439 would establish the LGBT Veterans Memorial at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City as the official state LGBT veterans memorial. Photo: Office of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.


Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia ( D-Coachella) authored the bill.

“This memorial will stand as a testament to the valiant contributions of our LGBT community in the service of the United States Military,” Garcia said in a statement.

“I thank Mr. Swann for his lifelong dedication to veteran and LGBT issues as well as all his efforts to bring this memorial to fruition. His advocacy along with the support and forward thinking of the City of Cathedral City and the Palms Springs Cemetery District will help advance California toward this next historical milestone.”


The bill next will go for a vote before the full Senate.

This bill has received unanimous, bipartisan support thus far and has been endorsed by the California Department of Veteran Affairs. Four U.S. Presidents (Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama) and three California Governors (Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Brown) have sent formal letters recognizing the memorial.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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