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“I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives.”

– Leonard Matlovich 1987

Along with its other claims to fame, why, when, and how did Congressional Cemetery become even
more historic for attracting a still-growing number of out LGBTQ+ residents; the largest known in the world, and a distinction so exceptional that even mainstream media repeatedly wonder at it?

June’s guest speaker, gay historian Michael Bedwell, will describe its origins in legendary Paris cemetery Père Lachaise and detail the three reasons why his late friend, former Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, the first service member to purposely out himself to fight the American military’s ban on gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, chose Congressional over Arlington.

His grave has been the focal point for several historic gay rights events, the site of the legal wedding of two men, and is the starting point for DC Front Runners’ annual Pride Run—though many of them were born after he died and have no idea who he was. Illustrated with personal photos along with audio and video clips, Michael will also discuss the significance of Historic Congressional Cemetery as the location of not just Leonard’s internationally iconic stone but also the Veterans Administration cenotaph for Leonard’s mentor and the father of the modern gay rights movement Frank Kameny, and the final resting place of three additional Movement pioneers: multi-achieving Barbara Gittings and her life partner Kay Tobin Lahusen and future resident Randy Wicker who led the first organized gay rights protest in the world in 1964. Behind the cover of TIME magazine, beyond the front pages of newspapers from The New York Times to the Big Spring, Texas Herald, away from national network news screens, and out of handcuffs in front of the White House, what was the man like who inspired their all coming here?

Tickets are only $5 and all proceeds go to benefitting our non-profit mission of historical preservation and education. Space is limited so be sure to reserve your spot today! The event is rain or shine. Smoking is prohibited and dogs are not allowed to attend the event unless they are a service animal.

Keynote remarks will take place inside the Chapel, and the walking tour will take place on the grounds. After his remarks, Bedwell will be joined by one of our docents for a tour of HCC’s LGBTQ+ graves, culminating in a wreath laying at Leonard Matlovich’s grave. Please come prepared with comfortable clothing and shoes, as the tours often stray from the main paths.

Our Speaker:

Michael Bedwell

The spokesperson for the Matlovich family, Michael Bedwell met Leonard Matlovich shortly before his Air Force discharge in 1975, was his roommate in Washington DC and San Francisco, and was holding his hand when he passed in 1988. His articles have appeared in the Washington Blade, Bay Area Reporter, Philadelphia Gay News, Windy City Times, and on LGBTQnation and Gay Military Signal. He’s contributed to works by others including The Gay Revolution by lesbian historian Lillian Faderman, and been interviewed by the Washington Post, TIME, WUSA9, BBC Radio, and the Air Force Times. In 1975, he appeared on PBS with late Kinsey Institute researcher Dr. Alan Bell in a segment about homosexuality. In 1977, he worked in the anti Anita Bryant campaign in Miami. In 1979, he was clubbed by police during the White Night Riot in San Francisco. An advisor to Chicago’s Legacy Project on LGBT history, he’s a past president of DC’s Stonewall Democrats, and organized two official events for 2009’s National Equality March on Washington: a wreath laying in honor of LGBT veterans at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) Protest and Memorial for Leonard in front of the Chapel. In 2010, he was one of 13 arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence to protest DADT. In 2015, he organized the dedication of the Veterans Administration memorial to Frank Kameny behind Leonard’s grave, and also created the first edition of our LGBTQ+ Self-Guided Walking Tour pamphlet.

Some of Michael’s history articles:

The Imitation Alan Turing vs. the Real Alan Turing: Victim vs. Hero
How Alfred Kinsey armed the early gay rights movement with research
Black lesbian Ernestine Eckstein was protesting when most gays thought protests were crazy
Remembering transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen

To learn more about the Cemetery Speaker Series, check out our main page HERE.

You may reserve your spot below.