For nearly two decades, a local veteran has been leading the fight to recognize members of the LGBTQ community who served in the military, but his efforts are now paying off even with plenty of roadblocks on the way.
The commander of American Veteran Post 66 in Palm Springs, Tom Swann Hernandez, is a former marine and now an openly gay veteran. He led the fight to build the LGBT Veteran Memorial inside the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City back in 2001.
“Military did not endorse gay, bisexuals, or trans-genders, so they had no closure, they couldn’t go to the funeral and they couldn’t say goodbye to their loved ones,” Hernandez said. “Now this memorial is a place of prayer and pray their last respects for their loved ones who died in the war.”
The LGBT Veterans Memorial is not its way to become the state’s and the nation’s first official veterans memorial for the LGBTQ community through AB 2439 that passed the state house and senate.
But for years, Hernandez has fought an uphill battle.
“It was very controversial, our opponent said gay veterans is an oxymoron, that gays haven’t served in the military,” Hernandez said. “We had to prove that they had and we shared our stories and got dedicated, it was America’s first gay veterans memorial in the whole country.”
In 2004 Hernandez petitioned to make it the first official LGBTQ veterans memorial for the state, an idea that then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected.
Kathleen Jurasky, the Desert Memorial Park District’s Director said Hernandez is not one who gives up.
Jurasky said, “It was 2001, think about it, trying to put a memorial for gay veterans in this valley or anywhere in the nation for that matter, it was a challenge.”
But in 2018, the LGBT Veterans Memorial has Republican and Democrat support from state lawmakers.
One of the authors of AB 2439, is Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, he said, “Men and women who wear the uniform who have sacrificed their lives in the armed forces should be recognized.”
Garcia said without the story behind the memorial, it is just another memorial, for Hernandez, this is a story of perseverance.
Hernandez said, “It took me a lot of time to get me to get back on this project but we’re doing it again and we didn’t give up.”
The bill will go back to the state assembly early August to amend the first part of the memorial’s name from “LGBT” to “LGBTQ”. Once the correction is done, it will be forwarded to the governor’s desk for signature.
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