On Saturday, April 27, 2019 an important event will take place and it will never be repeated again in American history. April 27 is the date that we dedicate the very first state memorial to honor our LGBTQ war dead and deceased veterans. That is a truly big deal and please let me explain why.
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.
Please let me share some of the historical facts about honoring our LGBTQ war dead. 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 Tomb of the Unknowns. My friend and mentor World War II Army veteran and Gay Rights Pioneer late Dr. Frank Kameny organized this simple flower wreath laying ceremony. Kameny coined the famous phrase “Gay Is Good!”
In my book I share that the military guards tried to rearrange the flowers so they would block the ribbon that said “Gay.” I have twice placed wreaths at Arlington to honor our LGBTQ war dead.
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. This was a national news story.
History was made when 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.
At the American Legion Hall meeting, presided by Gil Eidt, to discuss the issue a veteran stood up and said permitting the Palm Springs Gay Veterans to march in the Veterans Day parade would be the equivalent of allowing faggots and flashers in the parade.
During the parade a local radio station went silent so they would not have to say gay veterans to their listeners when I led our contingent past their radio booth. We are honoring Kleindienst with an award on April 27.
In 2018 State Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 2439 to designate our local memorial as the “California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial.” California is the first state to have a memorial for our LGBTQ war dead. In 2004 Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation.
California has only one other state veterans memorial. The Vietnam War Memorial and the planned Mexican-American Veterans Memorial are located at the state capitol in Sacramento. The State Assembly and State Senate voted unanimously that this state memorial honoring LGBTQ should be in Cathedral City.
So, yes, indeed this dedication ceremony is a big deal and that is why Palm Springs business owner and philanthropist Mr. Harold Matzner donated $5,000 so we could have a magnificent dedication ceremony.
The ceremony is on Saturday April 27 at 9 a.m. at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. The ceremony is free and open to the public. It is about time California honored the brave LGBTQ that served and died in silence. Now California honors the LGBTQ who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cherished freedoms we hold dear and enjoy today.
It will be a moment in American history.
- LGBTQ Veterans Memorial: Cindy Uken