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California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial to be dedicated Saturday in Cathedral City

LGBTQ Veterans Memorial

This plaque is part of the LGBTQ Veterans Memorial in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. The monument will be renamed the California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial in a dedication ceremony Saturday. Photo: Office of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.

Editorial

On Saturday, April 27, an important event will take place, and it will never be repeated again in world history. April 27 is the date that we dedicate the very first state memorial to honor our LGBTQ war dead and deceased veterans.

In 2018 state Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia introduced Assembly Bill  2439 to designate our local LGBTQ veterans memorial in Cathedral City as the “California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial.”

California has the nation’s first LGBT veterans memorial

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Nation’s first LGBTQ veterans memorial

California is the first state to have a memorial for our LGBTQ war dead. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation.

The state Assembly and Senate voted unanimously that this memorial honoring LGBTQ veterans should be located in Cathedral City.

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Saturday’s dedication will start at 9 a.m. at Cathedral City’s Desert Memorial Park. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

That is a truly big deal and please let me explain why.

Serving in silence

Almost all of the LGBTQ veterans that live in the Coachella Valley served in the U.S. military in silence. Because of discrimination, they were forced to conceal their sexual orientation and perform their courageous duties in the closet. These brave LGBTQ war dead and veterans sacrificed their lives for our freedom while at the same time giving up their freedom to say they were gay. The military did not begin to enable gays to serve openly until the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010.

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Gays, lesbians who served during World War II found freedom, were persecuted

Please let me share some of the historical facts about honoring our LGBTQ war dead.

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  • President Jimmy Carter, in 1980, after he lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan, approved the first wreath to honor our LGBTQ war dead at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • My friend and mentor, World War II U.S. Army veteran and gay rights pioneer, the late Frank Kameny, organized this simple flower wreath laying ceremony. Kameny coined the famous phrase “Gay Is Good!”
  • In 1993, I wanted to place a wreath at the Memorial Day service at Los Angeles National Cemetery. The Culver City VFW Post sponsored this ceremony. The ACLU had to threaten a lawsuit before I could place a wreath for our LGBTQ war dead at this ceremony.
  • Former Palm Springs Mayor Will Kleindienst approved the gay veterans marching in the Palm Springs Veterans Day Parade in 1999 despite the objections of every other veteran organization.

It’s about time

It is about time California honored the brave LGBTQ veterans who served and died in silence. Now California honors the LGBTQ veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cherished freedoms we hold dear and enjoy today.

About the author

Thomas Swann Hernandez

Thomas Swann Hernandez is a nationally recognized veteran and gay rights advocate, who spearheaded the initial push to dedicate the LGBTQ veterans memorial in Cathedral City in 2001. Swann Hernandez is the founder and Commander of American Veterans (AMVETS) 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 Swann 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.

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