(SACRAMENTO, CA)— Yesterday, Governor Brown put pen to paper, signing into law AB 2439, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia’s legislation designating Desert Memorial Parks’ LGBTQ Veterans Memorial located in Cathedral City as the state’s official LGBTQ Veteran Memorial. The successful passage of this measure would make California the first state in the United States of America to dedicate a memorial recognizing LGBTQ veterans.
“I am very proud of all of our constituents and local partners who have held steadfast, organizing this effort since the early 2000’s to accomplish this historic feat. It was my honor to play a role in being able to help California continue to lead on this next step toward equality and inclusion. The sanctioning of this first of its kind, veteran memorial extends our support and demonstrates our immense gratitude for the valiant contributions of LGBTQ veterans, true American patriots, who placed their lives on the line to defend the liberties we enjoy daily. Their sacrifices, in spite of obstacles and facing discrimination, more than merit the honor of a dedicated memorial site and sacred space for their loved ones to mourn the loss of these heroes,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia.
“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,” shared Palm Springs Cemetery District Trustee, Lenny Pepper.
He continued to say, “We wish to thank Assembly Member Garcia and Governor 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 City of Cathedral City, sponsor of AB 2439, holds a 100% 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 they 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,” stated Cathedral City Mayor Stan Henry. “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.”
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.
“The City of Palm Springs is pleased and appreciative the governor has signed the bill and we look forward to participating in honoring our LGBTQ veterans,” said Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon. “From a personal perspective as a gay man and a 26-year Navy veteran, I know personally how much this will mean to those countless LGBTQ men and women who have proudly served their country.”
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. In 2004, a previous legislative attempt to establish this, authored by Former State Senator Kehoe, was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.
Assemblymember Eduardo 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.