Gordon Tanner, the gay General Counsel for the U.S. Department of the Air Force and the first out gay military veteran to be confirmed by the Senate, will be the featured speaker on Nov. 11 at the 12th annual Veterans Day observance honoring LGBT veterans set to take place at D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.
The event will also include the dedication of a U.S. Veterans Administration memorial headstone for pioneering gay rights leader Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran who died in October 2011.
In a statement, organizers of the event said it would be held at the gravesite of former Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich.
In a carefully planned effort in collaboration with Kameny, Matlovich came out as gay in 1975 and became the first active duty service member to challenge the military’s ban on gay service members. The efforts by Kameny to push for an end to the gay military ban, which he began in the early 1960s, and Matlovich’s efforts to fight the ban in the ‘70s and ‘80s, have been credited with laying the groundwork for the full repeal of the gay ban in 2011.
Kameny’s headstone, along with a footstone bearing the slogan, “Gay is Good,” which Kameny coined in 1968, will be located at a site just behind Matlovich’s grave.
The final installation of the Kameny headstone and footstone clears the way for a memorial site where his friends and political associates say the LGBT community and the public can visit to honor Kameny’s more than 50 years of work on behalf of LGBT equality.
The event is being sponsored by the D.C. LGBT Community Center and coordinated by gay rights advocate Michael Bedwell, a longtime friend of Matlovich and Kameny. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is scheduled to perform during the ceremony.
Tanner, an attorney, has the distinction of being the first-ever presidential appointee confirmed by the U.S. Senate who’s not only openly gay and married to a same-sex spouse, but also a military veteran. He served as a colonel in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps Reserves at several military bases. He later served in a number of high-level legal positions for the Air Force as a civilian.
In an interview in June with DoD News, the Pentagon’s official public affairs information site, Tanner talked about the Defense Department’s LGBT Pride Month, saying it was important for the Department of Defense to recognize diversity within its ranks and to encourage “LGB service members and LGBT civilians to visibly serve.”
“I’ve had a chance to see LGBT members, both civilian and military members, serve when there was a ban on openly gay service, then during the period of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and [now] openly,” DoD News quoted him as saying.
“For me, it’s a time to remember the accomplishments, and the sacrifices and importance of the work that these members have provided to all of us and to the nation,” the publication quoted him as saying.
Paul Williams, president of Congressional Cemetery, worked with the local group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS), which purchased the cemetery plot for the Kameny memorial site, as well as with Kameny’s sister, Edna Kameny Levaie, and the Kameny estate to obtain the Veterans Affairs headstone. He noted that the Kameny memorial and Matlovich gravesite are located in a section of the cemetery that has become known as the “LGBT corner.”
“Congressional Cemetery is both honored and humbled to host the memorial site for Franklin Kameny among those interred in our LGBT corner at long last,” he said.
“It is the only known gay section of a cemetery anywhere in the world. His site and other LGBT pioneers such as Barbara Gittings will serve as a visual reminder to the youth of today and the future that the struggle for gay rights was fought hard and early by these distinguished individuals,” Williams said.
The LGBT Veterans Day event is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 at the Matlovich gravesite in Congressional Cemetery located at 1801 E St., S.E.