SACRAMENTO — In a historic move, Gov. Jerry Brown has 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 makes 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.

“I am truly honored to have been asked to carry this bill along with the support of our local partners,” Garcia told Uken Report. “Sanctioning this memorial demonstrates our support and gratitude for all of the contributions of LGBTQ veterans in our armed forces.”

The memorial is a granite obelisk alongside a bronze plaque with minimal maintenance costs. Its understated appearance belies its powerful significance.

Recognition of LGBTQ veterans comes at a time when transgender troops are under fire by the Trump Administration, making this historic event even sweeter.

LGBTQ

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia

“California prides itself on its leadership, particularly on matters of equality and inclusion. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for our LGBTQ community to receive equal treatment,” Garcia told Uken Report. “Discrimination in any form is intolerable; it is most especially unconscionable when directed toward our U.S. military. We owe all of the liberties and freedoms we enjoy in our daily lives to the sacrifices of those who have chosen to serve.  Our state is home to more veterans than any other state in the nation. My colleagues in the legislature recognize that over the years our LGBTQ veterans have had to endure many obstacles while wearing the uniform and placing their lives on the line in our defense; this memorial is a way for us to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for their brave contributions.”

This is a historic step recognizing the brave members of our LGBTQ community that have served in our armed forces, Garcia told Uken Report.

“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 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 their civic center and now it will become the first city in the nation to house an officially designated LGBTQ Veteran Memorial.

“History was made today in Sacramento that shines a beacon of freedom and liberty all the way to Cathedral City,” Cathedral City Mayor Stan Henry said in a prepared statement.  “Thanks to Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, the LGBT soldiers who bravely fought for our nation and for the freedoms we hold dear, their sacrifices and honor will now be recognized through the official State LGBT Veterans Memorial here in Cathedral City.  This historic memorial, the first of its kind in the entire United States, will be a place for family, friends, and residents to gather in paying tribute to and find solace in their memory.”

Thomi Clinton, executive director and CEO of the Transgender Community Coalition in Cathedral said told Uken Report that, “Bringing attention to Transgender Soldiers and their service to our county has been a struggle in this nation going back to Albert Cashier from 1913.”

“Our perseverance has paid off,” professed AMVETS Post 66 Founder/Commander and longtime LGBTQ advocate, Tom Swann Hernandez who has been instrumental on both this legislative endeavor and the memorial’s genesis. “California is leading the nation by honoring the heroes, many of whom have had to die in silence because they were forced to conceal their sexual orientation.”

This state and national milestone would not have been possible without a long history of leadership and vision on the local level. Along with AMVETS Post 66, the Palm Springs Cemetery District dedicated the memorial on May 27, 2001. Significantly, the Palm Springs Cemetery District Board’s vote to approve this very controversial proposal came nine years before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“After much discussion, the answer for the Board of Trustee was in fact very clear and unanimous.  The monument in question was proposed like all others on our grounds; in this instance, to pay tribute to individuals identified as LGBTQ Americans, patriots who served their country proudly. A profound truth of Cemeteries in general and Desert Memorial Park in particular, is that all who are at eternal rest within our boundaries have equal status,” Palm Springs Cemetery District Trustee Lenny Pepper said in a prepared statement.

He added, “We wish to thank Assembly Member Garcia and Gov. Brown for designating the LGBTQ monument as the official monument for our state of California.  It is proudly displayed along with the other monuments, equal in its standing as a dignified symbol of honor paid to Americans who answered the call to serve their country.”

The initiative has received a strong showing of support from both local and statewide LGBTQ groups. Other desert cities and entities including the neighboring City of Palm Springs and the County of Riverside have also reached out in warm embrace of this opportunity and concept that originated in the Coachella Valley.

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.

“The actualization of this veteran milestone within our very own community definitely merits celebration,” Garcia told Uken Report.

Garcia, The Palm Springs Cemetery District, Tom Swann Hernandez, and the City of Cathedral City plan to formally commemorate this achievement with a celebration at the memorial site.

Garcia, D-Coachella, represents the 56th district, which comprises the cities and communities of Blythe, Brawley, Bermuda Dunes, Calexico, Calipatria, Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, El Centro, Holtville, Imperial, Indio, Mecca, Oasis, North Shore, Salton Sea, Thermal, Thousand Palms, and Westmorland.