CATHEDRAL CITY — The much-anticipated dedication ceremony for the historic California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial is set here for Saturday April 27, 2019,
In a groundbreaking move, Gov. Jerry Brown in August 2018 signed into law AB 2439, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s legislation designating Desert Memorial Parks’ LGBTQ Veterans Memorial in Cathedral City as the state’s official LGBTQ Veteran Memorial.
The successful passage of this measure made California the first state in the United States of America to dedicate a memorial recognizing LGBTQ veterans.
Garcia and Brown were able to achieve what others had not. In 2004, Democratic State Senator Christine Kehoe introduced similar legislation and it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Garcia told Uken Report that he was compelled to introduce the legislation after Tom Swann Hernandez, a local veteran and longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community who was instrumental in the original dedication of this memorial in 2001, brought this idea to him.
AMVETS Post 66 first dedicated this memorial at a public cemetery operated by the Palm Springs Cemetery District in 2001.
Swann Hernandez, who was been instrumental on both the legislative endeavor and the memorial’s genesis, is now leading dedication efforts.
There will be two separate events on April 27. First, is the unveiling and dedication ceremony at Desert Memorial Park, 31-705 Da Vall Drive in Cathedral City.
The dedication ceremony will include laying a wreath to honor LGBTQ war dead and deceased veterans. This ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. It is free and open to the public.
Swann Hernandez and Laura Meeks of AMVETS Post 66 will serve as emcees.
Featured speakers include U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; Dr. Vito Imbasciani, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. (CDVA); and State Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Chad Mayes.
Local mayors and the director of the Palm Springs Cemetery District, Kathleen Jurasky, will also speak, according to Swann Hernandez.
Desert Winds Freedom Band will perform. Memorial flower wreaths will be placed by veteran organizations and elected officials at the LGBTQ Veterans Memorial which is a mahogany granite obelisk.
Swann Hernandez said, “Doves will be released to fly upwards like a soul being lifted to heaven in memory of many famous.”
Some of those include World War II Navy veteran Cesar Chavez; San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk who was a Navy officer; Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich; Cathedral City Mayor Gregory S. Pettis; and others.
“A memorial of this nature is particularly significant following the years of discrimination faced by LGBTQ members in the military that over the course of time had often prohibited same-sex partners from attending and mourning for the loss of their loved ones during funeral services. This memorial became the first dedicated sacred space to pay respects and commemorate the service of LGBTQ veterans,” Garcia has said.
The City of Cathedral City, sponsor of AB 2439, holds a 100 percent rating by the Human Rights Campaign for diversity, was the first city in the Coachella Valley to pass a gender-neutral bathroom ordinance as well as to establish a Rainbow Crossing outside its civic center and now it is the first city in the nation to house an officially designated LGBTQ Veterans Memorial.
AB 2439 was a bipartisan measure endorsed by the California Department of Veteran Affairs. Four American Presidents; Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama have sent formal letters recognizing the memorial.
There will be an awards luncheon afterward at Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant, at 35-325 Date Palm Drive, Suite 111 in Cathedral City.
Many public officials and leaders of veteran organizations will speak, Swann Hernandez said.
Several awards will be presented including AMVETS Post 66 awards.
Charlie Sharples will receive AMVETS Post 66 “Silver Helmet Award,” which is equivalent to being the Post member of the year. Former Palm Springs Mayor Will Kleindienst and Palm Springs business owner and philanthropist Harold Matzner will receive the “Friend of the Veteran Award.”
Kleindienst started the Palm Springs Veterans Day Parade and in 1999 against opposition by most veteran organizations approved the gay veterans to march in the parade for the first time.
Harold Matzner is the major sponsor of the LGBTQ Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony and donated $5,000 to Veterans for Peace.
“All Veterans are very important to me,” Matzner told Uken Report of his donation.
Veterans for Peace is presenting the “Greg Pettis Elected Official of the Year Award” to Cathedral City Mayor Mark Carnevale. A “Special Achievement Award” will be presented to Dr. Vito Imbasciani, the Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA). Imbasciani is the first gay CDVA Secretary and served in the Army. A “Special Achievement Award” will be presented to Riverside County, which recently achieved the milestone of functional zero homeless veterans.
The buffet cost is $22 and space is limited. For reservations contact Tom Swann Hernandez at (760) 324-5670.
These events are co-sponsored by Frank Moulton AMVETS Post 66 in Palm Springs, Veterans for Peace Jon Castro Chapter of the Inland Empire and the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion in San Francisco.
- LGBTQ Veterans Memorial: Cindy Uken