National LGBT Veterans Memorial Stalled Due to Lack of Funds

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A rendering of the planned LGBT memorial at Congressional Cemetery. (Image courtesy Congressional Cemetery)

Longtime LGBT rights advocate Nancy Russell, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, was hopeful that the three 11-foot-tall black granite panels designated as the centerpiece of a National LGBT Veterans Memorial would be installed in D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery in time for a Memorial Day dedication in 2015 or 2016.

Russell, who’s 80 years old and serves as chair of the memorial’s board of directors, joined several other LGBT veterans in announcing plans for an LGBT veterans memorial in the nation’s capital in 2012. The proposed memorial was immediately embraced by LGBT veterans and their supporters throughout the country.

But now, six years later, the board has raised only about 25 percent of the estimated $500,000 cost for building and installing the monument and paying the balance owed for the purchase of the land in Congressional Cemetery where the monument and surrounding space will be located, according to Marty Gunter, the memorial project’s development director.

“We’re still working very hard on this,” said Gunter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “Nancy and I speak on a very regular basis about moving this project forward,” he said, adding that the board was in the process of retaining a professional fundraiser.

Russell and Gunter both live in San Antonio, Texas, where the memorial project’s official headquarters is located.

Gunter said the board was also planning to set up one or more online fundraising sites such as GoFundMe or Benevity, which encourage workplace giving and corporate philanthropy for specific charitable causes.

Also under consideration, according to Gunter, was an appeal for help from an LGBT supportive public relations firm that could help publicize the memorial and its fundraising effort.

“Just getting the word out, that’s been the hard part of it to be honest with you,” he said. “Some potential large donors said they wanted to donate. But they always wanted to wait until after the election or after this or after that,” Gunter said.

“I think it’s going to be those small donors and the veterans, the everyday veterans that are going to build this memorial,” he said. “I do believe there’s a need for it. I just feel very confident that we can do it.”

In August 2014, the board announced the selection of a design for the memorial prepared by an architect. It consists of three black granite panels or pillars standing 11 feet high, five feet wide and one foot thick.

Two of the official emblems of the nation’s six military branches are planned to be placed on each of the three pillars, with the Navy and Marines on one, the Army and Air Force on another, and the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines on the third.

“This monument is simple yet stately and will stand proudly on its site just as those it represents served this country with pride,” says a statement released at the time the design was announced.

“The pillars will be placed in a triangle to allow space for visitors to walk inside where there is a flag pole and inscriptions explaining the Memorial’s meaning and the history behind it,” the statement says.

The statement notes that a significant part of the funding for the project was expected to come from LGBT veterans who want to have their service memorialized by purchasing paver stones with their name and service information engraved on them. The pavers would be placed on the memorial’s grounds, the statement said.

Russell said at that time that additional funds were expected to be raised through the purchase of space for the interment of cremated ashes of veterans and their partners or spouses also within the memorial grounds if there was a demand for such interment.

Gunter said no funds have been raised so far from the purchase of interment sites or pavers and he doesn’t expect such purchases to take place until the memorial is built.

Paul Williams is president of Congressional Cemetery, which is privately owned by the LGBT-supportive Christ Church of Capitol Hill. He said the cemetery enthusiastically supports the LGBT Veterans Memorial.

He said the cemetery allowed the memorial’s organizers to make a down payment on the cemetery plots where the memorial will be located knowing they had yet to raise the money to pay it all at that time. But he said that under Congressional Cemetery’s financing policy the memorial cannot be installed until the plots are paid in full.

Williams said the place reserved for the memorial is located near the gravesite of U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, who came out as gay on the front page of the New York Times in 1975 and later that year on the cover of Time magazine as the first active duty service member to intentionally disclose their sexual orientation to challenge the military’s ban on gays.

Matlovich, who died in 1988, was buried in a section of the cemetery that Williams says has become the burial site for other LGBT people, including LGBT military veterans, who chose to be buried near the Matlovich gravesite. Williams said the area is referred to as the cemetery’s “gay corner,” making Congressional Cemetery the only known cemetery anywhere that has an LGBT section.

Matt Thorn, executive director of OutServe/SLDN, a national group that advocates for active duty LGBT service members, said his group would be willing to help the LGBT Veterans Memorial project in any way it can.

“We wholeheartedly support a memorial,” he said.

Also serving on the National LGBT Veterans Memorial board are longtime gay activist and Marine Corps veteran Tom Swann Hernandez of Palm Springs, Calif.; and 86-year-old Navy veteran, cryptographer and Russian linguist Jim Darby of Chicago.

The two said they also are hopeful that the LGBT community and its supporters will recognize the importance of the memorial to veterans like them and make a contribution so the memorial becomes a reality.

Contributions can be made through the memorial’s website at nlgbtvm.org or by mailing a donation to NLGBTVM, P.O. Box 780514, San Antonio, Texas 78278-0514.


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