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DC Veterans Day Event
Honors Kameny and Matlovich

By Michael Bedwell

History was both celebrated and made this Veterans Day in the nation’s capital as an all gay Honor Guard of active duty service members stood at attention near the graveside of former Technical Sergeant and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient Leonard Matlovich in Historic Congressional Cemetery. At 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, 2015, members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC, some themselves in uniform, sang the National Anthem to begin this year’s observance honoring the service of LGBTs throughout the history of our country. The annual event was begun in 2003 by gay retired Navy Capt. Mike Rankin, and it was my honor to organize it this year.

Cosponsored by the DC Center for the LGBT Community and Military Partners and Family Coalition (MPFC), it saluted the 40th anniversary of Leonard purposely outing himself to the Air Force to launch the first formal fight against the US military’s ban on gays and, dedicated a memorial to the WWII service of pioneering gay activist Frank Kameny.  Leonard had read an article in the March 27, 1974, issue of the Air Force Times in which Frank said he was looking for the “perfect test case.” After nearly a year of strategizing with Frank and ACLU attorney David Addlestone, Leonard presented a letter to his commanding officer on March 6, 1975, addressed to the Secretary of the Air Force in which he stated that he was gay and “consider myself fully qualified for further military service. My almost twelve years of unblemished service supports this position." TIME magazine, who famously put a photo of him in uniform on their cover included a photocopy of the letter in their own 40th anniversary retrospective article this past September titled, “How a Closeted Air Force Sergeant Became the Face of Gay Rights.” http://time.com/4019076/40-years-leonard-matlovich/

Following Rankin’s tradition, uniformed American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) and MPFC member Tony Smith read, “We Are Gathered,” I read, For the Fallen, and former Sixth Army Soldier of the Year Joe Zuniga read, “Sing a Song of Peace.” Zuniga was only 23 when he outed himself at a 1993 gay March on Washington event after which the outraged Army discharged him in record time.

The keynote address was delivered by Gordon O. Tanner, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of the Air Force and its Chief Legal Officer and Chief Ethics Official and a former Air Force colonel.

“This is a remarkable occasion to honor two remarkable men who transformed the gay movement, Frank Kameny and Leonard Matlovich. . . . It’s wonderful to be here to remember, to reflect on history, to think about where we’ve come. But that’s not enough. That is simply not enough. That was not enough for these two leaders, it’s not enough for us today.  We have to be visible. We cannot pretend that we have already gotten where we need to be, that we have every right, every benefit, every recognition we deserve. Folks, that is simply untrue,” (and used the recent overwhelming defeat of an anti LGBT discrimination ordinance in Houston as an example).

“My husband and I never dreamed that we would be married at the National Cathedral. We never dreamed that our marriage would be legally recognized in America. These things we take for granted now, we should not. We have to be vigilant, we have to be strong, we have to be alert, and we have to be out there leading the way to ensure that these rights are not only protected but are enhanced. You can be visible in your own way. Each person has their own path, but you must be visible. We must never fail to lead our brothers and sisters in that arc of moral justice [that Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about].”

 After his remarks, Tanner and Zuniga placed a wreath on Leonard’s grave.

Two longtime friends of Frank also spoke. Paul Kuntzler recalled the day in 1962 when, at 20, he became the youngest member of the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW) which Frank had cofounded the year before, and later managing his unprecedented 1971 campaign for Congress. In 1975, he, Frank, and others founded DC’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club after a fundraiser they’d organized for Leonard. Rick Rosendall, current president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, another group Frank cofounded, was one of those who recently reactivating MSW’s charter with a new focus on what they call “archive activism.” Frank “resented having to lie to fight for his country in World War II, but because of his long and pioneering service on the domestic front afterwards, no one will have to tell that particular lie again. In time our inscriptions will fade away, long after we ourselves fade away. In many ways, life itself is a struggle against the ruins. The magnitude of Frank's contributions compelled some of us to help preserve his papers in our great national library, [the Library of Congress], whose collection was begun by the man who wrote the most liberating words of the past thousand years, that all men are created equal.”

Author David Carter is working on a biography of Frank, and told the crowd, “It’s frustrating to me having written the history of Stonewall that the media say over and over that the modern gay rights movement started with Stonewall. It did not. It started with Frank Kameny.” At the request of Kay Lahusen who, along with her late life partner Barbara Gittings, was a close friend and Movement comrade of Frank’s, Carter read the closing section of the pioneer’s famous 1969 essay:

"It is time to open the closet door and let in the fresh air and the sunshine. It is time to doff and to discard the secrecy, the disguise, and the camouflage. It is time to hold up your heads and to look the world squarely in the eye as the homosexuals that you are, confident of your equality, confident in the knowledge that as objects of prejudice and victims of discrimination you are right and they are wrong, and confident of the rightness of what you are and of the goodness of what you do. It is time to live your homosexuality fully, joyously, openly, and proudly, assured that morally, socially, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and in every other way: Gay is good. It is."

After I recited a portion of Leonard’s last public speech before he died in 1988 in which he said, “Ours is more than an American dream, it’s a universal dream . . . and our mission is to reach out and teach people to love and not to hate,” artistic director Dr. Thea Kano led the chorus in “Make Them Hear You” (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty from the musical Ragtime) whose lyrics expressed the belief of both men.

Go out and tell our story.
Let it echo far and wide.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.

How justice was our battle
And how justice was denied.
Make them hear you. 
Make them hear you.

And say to those who blame us
For the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles
That are more than black or white.
And I could not put down my sword
When justice was my right.
Make them hear you.
Go out and tell our story
To your daughters and your sons.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.

And tell them, in our struggle,
We were not the only ones.
Make them hear you.
Make them hear you.
Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then,
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men.
Make them hear you. 
When they hear you,
I'll be near you again.

At the close of the song, Tanner and out Cemetery president Paul Williams unveiled a Veterans Administration memorial stone finally honoring Frank’s service during WWII four years after his death, Kuntzler and Rosendall placed a spray of red, white, and blue flowers, and Beth Smith played “Taps.” Williams deserves enormous gratitude from the community for not having given up on securing the memorial for the plot in the row immediately behind Leonard’s purchased by the nonprofit Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) which provides financial assistance to LGBT veterans. They also purchased a footstone reading, “Gay Is Good.” Out of all of his accomplishments, Frank said coining the phrase was what he most wanted to be remembered for.  A memorial bench for Gittings and Lahusen is directly across the road.


Honor Guard organizer Navy HM2 Jeffy Priela-Tam looks on as Air Force
General Counsel Gordon O. Tanner and Cemetery President Paul Williams
unveil VA memorial for Kameny. Courtesy of Patsy Lynch.

Memorial stone reads:
US ARMY WORLD WAR II - MAY 21 1925 - OCT 11 2011 - GERMANY"

Veteran Lara Ballard was also in attendance, and her 2003 video interview with Frank about his service in the 58th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division, 9th Army, can be seen online at: http://tinyurl.com/FrankKamenyWWII.

Closing the four-decade circle between the article that brought Frank and Leonard together and this year’s observance, a reporter for the Air Force Times was among the media covering the event. One of those he interviewed was speaker Tony Smith who served from 1990 to 1995. Tony told me he “saw several large witch hunts that rounded up dozens of intelligence analysts and linguists I worked with and resulted in careers destroyed. I was luckily never investigated but was under a great deal of pressure with all the hiding. So sadly and with a heavy heart I decided to leave active duty on my own volition and the career I loved.” He told Times writer Phillip Swarts, “I dedicated myself to ensuring that those that come after me didn’t have to leave a career they love and have to step away from the military. They could serve honorably and openly.” Full article at: http://tinyurl.com/AirForceTimesVeteransDay

Swarts also interviewed Air Force Major General Trish Rose, the highest ranking out gay person currently serving. “[I came today to] honor those folks who helped me stand in uniform and say I’m gay. Any leader has to be authentic, if you’re going to lead troops. They have to test you, they have to know you. You need to be an authentic person to them, and so to be able to be openly gay to acknowledge who I am, to let them know who my family is, my spouse, makes a difference in a leadership role. People know you and trust you. Because then they’ll follow you.” Rose will be the keynote speaker at AVER’s 2016 National Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

LEFT: Amanda Simpson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational
Energy and the highest ranking transgender appointee in the Obama Administration.
CENTER: Maj. Gen. Trish Rose, the highest ranking out officer in the US military.
Courtesy of General Rose.

Thanks to all of the participants and all of those who attended. Special thanks to Dan Choi for his personal assistance, and to Navy HM2 Jeffy Priela-Tam for organizing the Honor Guard, and to its members Army SPC Daniel Yeadon, Army 1LT Jonathan Roman, Army SPC Fernando Salcedo, Navy YN1 Adam Crismond, and Army SPC Shane Bagwell.

One final note. In another full circle, closeted PFC Frank Kameny received his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the fall of 1943. On Sunday, November 8, 2015, three days before his VA memorial was unveiled, out gay Brigadier General Tammy Smith became the commanding general of Fort Benning’s 98th Training Division.

For some, the event was part of an ongoing healing process such as
former Navy Arabic and Farsi Crypto-Linguist Phillip Zimmerman,
saluting during the National Anthem, who was kicked out for being gay in 1986.

Additional photos by Elvert Barnes, Bill Horten, and Fritz Keppler.


An NBC TV news report on the above events may be viewed at:

2015 GayMilitarySignal