The dedication ceremony for the new California LGBTQ Veterans Memorial will be held on Saturday April 27, 2019 in Cathedral City, California. In 2018 the California state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown approved Assembly Bill (AB) 2439 introduced by State Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia to designate America’s first LGBT Veterans Memorial at Desert Memorial Park a state memorial. California is the first state to have a memorial to honor the sacrifices of LGBTQ who died in our nation’s wars. AMVETS Post 66 dedicated this memorial at a public cemetery operated by the Palm Springs Cemetery District in 2001.

There will be two dedication events on April 27. 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.  The unveiling and dedication ceremony will be at Desert Memorial Park which is located at 31-705 Da Vall Drive in Cathedral City. The dedication ceremony is also a memorial wreath–laying ceremony to honor our LGBTQ war dead and deceased veterans. This ceremony will begin at 9:00 AM and is free and open to the public. Master of Ceremonies for the solemn event are Tom Swann Hernandez and Laura Meeks of AMVETS Post 66. Featured speakers include Rep. Mark Takano, Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  Also Dr. Vito Imbasciani, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. (CDVA).  Also speaking are State Assembly Members Eduardo Garcia and Chad Mayes. Local Mayors and the Director of the Palm Springs Cemetery District (Kathleen Jurasky) will also be speaking. Desert Winds Freedom Band will perform. Memorial flower wreaths will be placed by veteran organizations and elected officials at the memorial which is a mahogany granite obelisk. Doves will be released to fly upwards like a soul being lifted to heaven in memory of many famous people including World War II Navy veteran Cesar Chavez, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk who was a Navy officer, Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, Cathedral City Mayor Greg Pettis and others.

There will be an awards luncheon at Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant which is located at 35-325 Date Palm Drive Suite 111 in Cathedral City. Many public officials and leaders of veteran organizations will be speaking.  Several awards will be presented which include AMVETS Post 66 awards to Charlie Sharples 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 dedication ceremony and donated $5,000 to Veterans For Peace. Former Cathedral City Council Member Shelley Kaplan has donated $500 for the dedication ceremony but declined to receive an award.

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.

Over the years four American Presidents and three California Governors have sent special letters for this memorial. Tom Swann Hernandez led the effort to dedicate the memorial in 2001.  Tom is Catholic and said the memorial has become a holy place where people pray for loved ones who died in wars and did not have an opportunity to confess before they died. Tom said the souls in purgatory and heaven will hear our tributes and our prayers and will be grateful. Tom said he was inspired to dedicate this memorial because so many same-sex lovers of our war dead were left out of the military funerals because the military discriminated against gays. Tom added that the memorial is a place for closure to so many same-sex lovers of our war dead. Cemetery Director Kathleen Jurasky said that the   memorial was dedicated nine years before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Jurasky praised the cemetery trustees for their forward thinking approval of the memorial in 001 when prominent people like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Reagan opposed the memorial.  This memorial is the fourth landmark in the United States to honor Transgender people.

Tom Swann Hernandez persevered for almost fifteen years of hard work to have the state designate this memorial as a state memorial. Christine Kehoe, while she served in the State Assembly (and later became a State Senator) introduced similar legislation in 2004 but the bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The only other state veteran’s memorial in California is the Vietnam War Memorial.  The state has approved the creation of a Mexican-American Veterans Memorial.