“As long as there’s been a military, there have been LGBTQ service members,” says Tiera Craig, treasurer for the Board of Directors of The DC Center for the LGBT Community. “And as with anything, if there’s something different, there’s going to be discomfort and pushback.”
Part of the history of the LGBTQ military community has been one of struggle, starting with Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich of the U.S. Air Force, who was the first out gay service member to challenge the military’s policies excluding LGBTQ individuals from serving.
Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran with an exemplary record of service, was discharged after coming out and subsequently sued for his reinstatement, with the Air Force eventually agreeing to settle the lawsuit.
Craig sees many similarities between Matlovich’s fight and more modern-day pushes for full inclusion of LGBTQ service members, particularly with the Trump administration’s attempts to ban transgender individuals from serving. “Our veterans community has had very much support from the federal government, but with our current administration, we’re having problems and issues with our transgender service men and women,” she says.
Center Military, a support group for LGBTQ veterans and service members, will honor Matlovich — and, by extension, all other LGBTQ people who have served their country — in an annual wreath-laying ceremony at his gravesite, in the LGBTQ section of Washington’s Congressional Cemetery.
“It will be a full-length memorial service,” Craig says. “We’ll have an opening prayer, we’ll have the procession of the colors, a few speakers, including representatives from the L, G and T communities, ‘Taps’ will be played, followed by a moment of silence.”
Following the ceremony, attendees can head to an HRC-sponsored networking event at the Barracks Row bar The Ugly Mug (723 8th St. SE). “[It’s] an opportunity for LGBTQ veterans and service members to get together and remember those veterans who have passed on,” says Craig, “both in peacetime and in wartime, and feel camaraderie throughout our community.”
Center Military’s annual Veterans Day Wreath-Laying Ceremony for LGBTQ Veterans is Monday, Nov. 11 from Noon to 1:30 p.m. at the grave of Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich in the the LGBTQ section of Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St. SE. Visit www.thedccenter.org/military.