February 15, 2012 at 8:39 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Kameny gravesite ceremony set for March 3
Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny will be buried next to Leonard Matlovich, the first active duty service member to come out publicly in 1975.

A grave site ceremony for the late gay rights leader Franklin E. Kameny will be held March 3 at D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, organizers of the event announced on Wednesday.

“All friends, family and the public are welcome to observe the interment for Dr. Kameny at historic Congressional Cemetery,” the announcement says. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

“The informal observance will include brief remarks as well as recognition by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network of Dr. Kameny’s honorable military service during World War II,” it says.

Charles Francis, co-founder of the Kameny Papers Project, said Kameny’s friends and associates organizing the ceremony applied for and received a formal military veteran’s headstone provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs identical to the ones used for burials at Arlington National Cemetery.

The inscription on the headstone will identify Kameny’s rank, military service, World War engagement in Germany, where Kameny served in combat, along with his date of birth and death – May 25, 1925 – Oct. 11, 2011.

Francis said a separate pink granite grave marker will include the inscription, “Gay is Good,” the slogan Kameny coined in the 1960s that he has said symbolized his nearly 50-year campaign to bring about equal rights for LGBT people.

Congressional Cemetery, located near Capitol Hill, was founded in 1807 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.

Among the 55,000 people interred there is one U.S. vice president, one Supreme Court justice, six cabinet members, 19 U.S. senators, and 71 U.S. representatives, according to literature released by the cemetery.

Francis and Kameny Papers Project co-founder Bob Witeck said the Kameny grave site will be next to that of U.S. Air Force veteran Leonard Matlovich, who became the first active duty member of the military to publicly declare he was gay in 1975. Kameny played a key role in advising Matlovich in his effort to end the military’s ban on gay service members.

The Kameny gravesite is also near the gravesite of the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Hoover’s longtime companion Clyde Tolson.

As part of a longstanding tradition by U.S. presidents, all U.S. military veterans receiving Department of Veterans Affairs’ headstones for their interment also receive an official certificate of recognition signed by the president.

Kameny’s certificate states, “The United States of America honors the memory of Franklin E. Kameny. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States. Barack Obama, President of the United States.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Lest the myth that Hoover and Tolson are buried side-by-side be unintentionally reinforced, Tolson’s grave is five plots to the right of that of Leonard Matlovich, while the Hoover family plot is several yards further down. Still, the reason Leonard chose that particular location was as a kind of last laugh on Hoover who, whatever his own identity, used the FBI to hurt and hound so many gays. And, yes, it was an interview with Frank that inspired Leonard’s volunteering to be the subject of the “perfect test case” Frank had been looking for for several years. Without both men the battle to end the ban might have taken even longer.

  • Do we anticipate that Kameny’s gravesite will be added as a major/not-to-miss stop on DC Gray Line Tours and DC Ducks?

  • The Clint Eastwood film J. Edgar engages questions concerning the relationships between Hoover and Tolson and the broader communities. Given no one has previously researched and documented the circumstances of how Hoover and Tolson came to be buried so close at Congressional Cemetery I undertook that task:

    J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson are buried in Congressional Cemetery not “nearby” but rather in plots as close to each other as was possible, due to availability, shortly after Hoover’s death.

    Clyde Tolson purchased plot 156, in August of 1972, just three short months after the passing of Hoover.

    The Hoover plots 117-120 (range 20) were purchased by J. Edgar’s father, Dickerson Hoover, in 1893. The adjacent plots had mostly sold by the 1890’s with the last plot having sold in the 1920’s.

    Fritz Lehman, former caretaker at Congressional Cemetery, shared with colleagues his story of Hoover and Tolson coming together to Congressional Cemetery many years earlier seeking a plot for Clyde. Tolson died in April of 1975, thus making his purchase of plot 156 almost three years in advance of his demise.

    Just five plots down from Tolson, at plot 161, Leonard Matlovich has his final resting place. Matlovich has had in death, as he did in life, a lasting impact on society. Leonard was one of the first to challenge the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military.

    Leonard Matlovich’s grave is the most visited site in Congressional Cemetery. His headstone, and monument, bears many stones in honor and homage to his struggles, leadership, and victory. His grave has been the site of gay weddings and other celebrations of the progress of the LGBTQ communities.

    Initially Matlovich acquired the plot with the intent of erecting a monument to Harvey Milk. Let us imagine Leonard saw great poetic justice in placing a monument to the slain gay civil rights leader just a few graves away from Tolson and Hoover.

    Harvey Milk, per families’ wishes, was buried in California. Thus Leonard Matlovich was laid to rest in the beautiful corner plot following his death from acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Matlovich’s marker, featuring two pink triangles, in reference to the badge of identification forced upon homosexuals in the death camps of the German Third Reich, reads:

    “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

    As a recipient of both the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, for services rendered as an Air Force Sergeant, and Vietnam Veteran, his tombstone does not bear his name. Rather, Matlovitch intended the grave as a memorial for all gay veterans; a literal tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.

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