"The most eloquent and most convincing testimony against the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' comes, as such testimony usually does, from those who have paid the highest price for the policy's failings. And the most compelling I have ever read is on a tombstone in Congressional Cemetery, not far from the Capitol." - Sen. John Kerry.
“And alien tears will fill for him pity’s long broken urn, for his mourners will be outcast men,
and outcasts always mourn.”
- epitaph on Oscar Wilde’s tombstone from his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol
which he wrote after finishing his two-year prison sentence for “gross indecency.”
CLICK PHOTO FOR DIRECTIONS
TO CEMETERY & THE GRAVESITE.
The Story Behind the Stone's Design and Location
LEONARD PERSONALLY DESIGNED his internationally known tombstone, incorporating the same kind of reflective black granite that was used in the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, inset with his famous quote and pink triangles referencing the emblem used to mark gays in Nazi concentration camps.
NOTE IT DOES NOT bear his name—his last name inscribed at the foot of a granite grave border was to be the only indication that the grave was his. He wanted the stone itself to serve as a memorial to all gay veterans. He got the idea after being moved by the oft-visited graves of Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein [who share the same stone] and Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and realizing that in America, filled with countless places memorializing its straight-identified forebears, there are few such places where gays can remember and honor their own. In that spirit, he later began a project to build a DC memorial to Harvey Milkbut passed away before enough money could be raised.
WHILE LEONARD WAS eligible to be buried in the same place most veterans identify with, Arlington National Cemetery, he chose Washington DC's Congressional Cemetery instead, which he discovered on one of his frequent walks near his then home.
Though smaller, it is half-a-century older than Arlington, and he loved its variety of individual stones versus Arlington's hundreds of thousands of identical markers. He also was amazed to learn that Peter Doyle, Walt Whitman's great love, is buried there, and couldn't resist the last laugh of being buried in the same row with the loathsome and apparently self-loathing FBI legend J. Edgar Hoover and Hoover's associate director, longtime best friend, heir, and some believe romantic partner Clyde Tolson despite both having engaged in harassment of gay rights groups. Tolson's grave, marked by a pink granite stone, is just five plots to the right of Leonard's, and the Hoover family plot is several yards further down.
IN A TOUCHING TRIBUTE no one anticipated, a growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have since chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings & Kay Lahusen, and others shown below. Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial. And at his graveside every Veterans Day, there's a gay veterans memorial service. The site is included in the book, Progressive Nation: A Travel Guide with 400+ Inspiring Landmarks.
Congressional Cemetery Is Now the World's Largest Outdoor Encyclopedia of American History.
"Congressional Cemetery is now the world's largest outdoor encyclopedia of American history, with encyclopedia articles available with a quick scan by a smartphone of QR codes that are placed next to the Cemetery's stone monuments. The phone will then display a Wikipedia article on the person buried or memorialized on the site, in the preferred ***language of the owner of the phone. Six QR codes were tested at the Cemetery including those next to the cenotaphs of President John Quincy Adams, and pre-Civil War congressional leaders Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, abolitionist Owen Lovejoy, and Cong. Tom Lantos, but the most popular scan was for the article on Vietnam veteran and gay activist Leonard Matlovich." - Wikimedia.
***His article is currently available in four languages.
"In the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision
of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined." - Bertrand Russell.
In May 2011, gay Iraq veteran and then-Capt. Stephen Hill, who was infamously booed by audience members during a Republican presidential candidates debate, and his partner Josh Snyder chose to be legally married next to Leonard's gravesite to honor his having begun the first organized fight against the military ban. Ohio, where they make their home, has legally recognized their joining their last names as Snyder-Hill. Click on the photo for an interview in which they talk about that and their participation in a lawsuit to secure gay military couples equal benefits. A longer video interview, including their account of their experiences at his gravesite, is here.
“I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths
that we were in our lives.”
- Leonard Matlovich, The Advocate, June 23, 1987
To read his entire Op Ed, which included his personal account of the design of his stone, and his hope to build a memorial to Harvey Milk in our nation's capital,
please click on the thumbnail at right.
Frank Kameny, World War II veteran, father of the modern gay rights, and the first to conceive of a premeditated test case against the ban, was Leonard's inspiration and mentor. Top left, they are shown in New York City's 1975 Pride Parade. Bottom left, Frank walks beside the caisson carrying Leonard to his final rest in Congressional Cemetery in 1988. In 2011, Frank himself passed, and a group of friends planned to inter his ashes in a plot near Leonard's. His veterans headstone and a marker quoting the expression he coined in 1968 and wished most to be remembered for were briefly installed, then removed until a dispute with his estate is resolved.
Barbara Gittings & Kay Tobin Lahusen were partners in life and married in their hearts for 46 years. Both were close allies of Frank Kameny [right] with whom Barbara [left with Leonard] helped convince the American Psychiatric Association to declare gays are not mentally ill, and fought dismissals by the Defense Department of gay civilian employees. She also created the first bibliography of books about gays, founded the New York chapter of the lesbian rights organization the Daughters of Bilitis, and edited their magazine, "The Ladder." In addition to being a cofounder of New York's Gay Activist Alliance, Kay authored the first book on Movement pioneers, 1972's The Gay Crusaders, and photographed many of its iconic events such as the first White House protests in 1965.
Thumbnails below can be clicked for larger images of various other gay grave sites in Congressional Cemetery. Like Leonard, gay vet activist Tom Swann, first right, has already placed his own stone. Read about his many ongoing accomplishments at www.tomswann.com.
One of the reasons Leonard chose Congressional Cemetery was because Peter Doyle is buried there next to his brother. The former is considered to be the greatest love of legendary American gay poet Walt Whitman. The two met on the Washington DC Navy Yard horse-driven streetcar for which Doyle was the conductor.
"I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that were threatening to consume me, I will lift what has too long kept down those smouldering fires, I will give them complete abandonment, I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love. . . . Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! Let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law, Camerado, I give you my hand! I give you my love more precious than money, I give you myself before preaching or law: Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?" - Walt Whitman.
2011 Veterans Day Observance
2011 Veterans Day Observance. Left to Right: ban victims, former Lt. Dan Choi, Sgt. Ian Finkenbinder, & Capt. Jim Pietrangelo. Photos by Tracey Hepner.
Photo in "The Washington Post" the day after DADT repeal was implemented in September 2011. The caption is incorrect, however, as lesbians Vicki Champagne and Sandra Stout challenged their discharge in court in 1973. The difference is that Leonard intentionally outed himself to the Air Force in 1975 to create a test case.
Clockwise: In 2010, gay veterans Ian Finkenbinder, Miriam Ben-Shalom, Jim Pietrangelo, Mara Boyd, Rob Smith, transgender veteran Autumn Sandeen, gay veterans Dan Choi, & Evelyn Thomas. Photo by Sean Carlson, Talk About Equality.
Illinois Cong. Mike Quigley and gay Navy veteran and ban victim Lee Reinhart placed an American flag on Leonard’s grave after the repeal of DADT by Congress. Quigley, who had urged the House of Representatives to repeal in Leonard’s memory, said, “What Sgt. Matlovich started three decades ago was finished this week because of heroes like Lee Reinhart, and it is a privilege to share this moment with both of them.”
Click on photo to go to page with videos & photos of major 2009 memorial.
2010 Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance Veterans Day observance
2004 - members of American Veterans for Equal Rights [AVER]
Australia ended their ban on gays in the military in 1992. Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer & gay rights leader Stuart O'Brien traveled to the United States several times to help lobby Congress to end the ban.
Now retired Air Force Major Margaret Witt won a landmark court victory against the ban in 2010 ordering her reinstatement. "One of the reasons I fought my discharge was to continue what Leonard had started."
Transgender Navy veteran Autumn Sandeen
Ban victim, former Air Force ROTC cadet Mara Boyd
Photos above of November 2010 GetEQUAL event by Sean Carlson, Talk About Equality
As he has many times, retired Navy Capt. Mike Rankin and other gay veterans placed a wreath in the 2011 HBO documentary, “The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.”
In 1995, longtime ban opponent and Chicago American Veterans for Equal Rights chapter President Jim Darby & his partner Patrick Bova had a commitment ceremony next to Leonard's grave.
Click to read 2003 "Washington Post" article.
C-SPAN's American History TV series broadcast a tour of the cemetery. Click on photo to view program online.
Travel guide “Progressive Nation” includes Leonard’s gravesite along with Underground Railroad sites, landmarks in the battle for women’s suffrage, & the site of the Haymarket Labor Riot in Chicago.
Former Navy Top Gun Tracy Thorne-Begland, right, who outed himself on “Nightline” in 1992 to help end the ban, his husband Michael, and their children, Logan and Chance, enter the cemetery for the 2009 memorial.
“The epitaph he chose to mark his grave is still as fresh as today’s headlines.”