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Meet Tom

Meet Tom

“Thomas A. Swann, an honorable veteran and champion of diversity, health and workers rights is commended and thanked on behalf of the people of this state…Thank you for bravely fighting on behalf of those unable to do it themselves.”
Bruce Thiesen
Secretary CA Dept. of Veteran Affairs
Read the entire Commendation

WHEREAS, Thomas A. Swann is a Vietnam era veteran who served our nation honorably in the United States Marine Corps; and,

WHEREAS, Thomas A. Swann is founder of AMVETS Post 66 is Palm Springs, District 9 AMVETS Commander; member of The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans; the Blind Veterans of America, and of California’s only Catholic War Veterans Post 762 in San Bernardino; and,

WHEREAS, Thomas A. Swann is founding Chairman of the California Democratic Party’s Veterans Caucus, Past President of Palm Springs Gay Veterans, member of the California State Democratic Party’s Central Committee; and,

WHEREAS, Thomas A. Swann is a champion of veterans rights, workers rights, civil rights, sexual orientation/identity rights, AIDS awareness, and Health Maintenance Organization accountability.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Thomas A. Swann, an honorable veteran and champion of diversity, health, and workers rights is commended and thanked on behalf of the people of this State, by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. Thank you for bravely fighting on behalf of those unable to do it themselves. May you succeed in all your future endeavors. “Semper Fidelis”

Subscribed on this 15th day of February, 2002

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Tom attends White House Ceremony repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell


Video of Ceremony (below) – “Out of Many, We Are One”.

By Tom Swann
December 29, 2010

(Note: This article contains some religious views. The religious portion can be described as “A Catholic Gay Veteran Perspective after Witnessing President Obama Repeal DADT”).

This historic trip to Washington DC was a dream comes true for me. The trip cost over $2,000. I am living on disability income and this amount diminishes my emergency fund.

If you can please make a donation for this travel please send to:
Tom Swann-Hernandez
PO Box 499
Rancho Mirage CA 92270

Dear Family and Friends:

I want to thank everyone who congratulated me on being invited to go to Washington DC last week. I was deeply honored to attend the ceremony, where President Obama signed legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Please accept this summary of my feelings and perspective about this important event.

I have worked on this civil rights issue since my civilian employment began at Point Mugu Navy Base in 1986. The Navy retaliated against me for telling the news media I am a proud gay veteran. This was, because they viewed my activism as a threat to their desire to maintain the status quo and keep LGBT out of the military. In 1993 Navy officials described me and other gay leaders trying to overturn the military ban on gays as a threat to national security. So when I received an invitation from the White House Monday late afternoon December 20 I started to tremble and shed a tear of gratitude. What a wonderful feeling to know President Obama does not believe gays like me are a threat to anyone.

I had previously met with Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in August. We discussed strategy for the repeal of DADT. My associate at the meeting was Bill Kibler, a Washington DC area resident and gay Marine Corps veteran who served in Beirut Lebanon. After confirming bill was also invited to meet with the President I made hotel and airline reservations. Since I was making a reservation less than 24 hours in advance during Christmas week, the cost on American Airlines was more than $1,800. That amount is more than I receive each month from SSDI. I ponder whether I could really afford to go to Washington DC. Everyone that I spoke to said yes I needed to pay this amount and make this trip. How do you tell the President you cannot be with him on this historic occasion?

When I have to make difficult decisions that require some faith I say a prayer. My friends have asked me to explain what religious faith means and how faith helps me make decisions in my life. I can describe it this way. The airlines reservation specialist told me there was only one seat left on the last flight departing Palm Springs for Dallas with connection to Washington DC Reagan national airport before bad weather may cancel flights on Tuesday December 21. I know weather such as rain seldom cancels flights at Palm Springs Airport. I felt it must be more than coincidence that the last seat on the last flight was still available at that exact moment when I needed to make a reservation. It seemed like that plane seat was meant perhaps by God for me. I also thought I would most likely be the only blind person invited to attend the ceremony. Since I had an assistant (Bill Kibler) to go with me I felt that I must go to represent other disabled veterans that could not attend the ceremony. So I purchased the ticket with the hope that my supporters would donate for my travel expenses when I returned to the desert. My faith helped me overcome the challenge of finances for this trip.

My ACLU case against the Navy is not the only challenge I have faced in life. In 1996 doctors said I only had six months to live because of AIDS. Your prayers and support have enabled me to overcome blindness, AIDS, bipolar and an injured hand so I could attain a level of activism in America that the President of the United States feels I am a somebody. Thank you so much for extending your love to me.

I arrived in Washington DC about 10:00 PM EST and checked into the hotel in Crystal City Virginia. On Wednesday December 22 at 6:30 AM Bill Kibler and I joined a line of people waiting to enter the Department of the Interior office building. It was cold but everyone was so excited we hardly noticed it. While standing in line David Mixner, the former gay senior political adviser to President Clinton arrived in a taxi cab. He gave me a great big hug and remarked, “We have been working on this for a long time haven’t we”? Later Frank Kameny arrived to attend the ceremony. Kameny advised late SGT. Leonard Matlovich when he “came out” to the Air Force in 1975. He is featured in my book and I gave him an award in 2000. I have been to his home and interviewed him. He was happy to see me. I shook hands with the Mother of slain gay Army soldier Barry Winchell and reminded her she attended a memorial ceremony we held in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. Around 7:30 AM someone made a decision that David Mixner, Barry Winchell’s Mother, Frank Kameny, Tom Carpenter of SLDN, a 91 year old major contributor to SLDN from Richmond VA whose name I don’t know, Bill Kibler and I should be in the front of the line and allowed into the building where it was warm. David Mixner asked me to go ahead of him into the building. Tom Carpenter remarked that our small group represented some very important history about the issue of gays in the military. This led to people taking photographs of us. I told David Mixner he was in chapter one of my book and he was grateful to receive a copy. I also gave a copy of my book to Frank Kameny, President Obama and Army Lt. Dan Choi.

The Los Angeles Times estimated the crowd to be about 500 people. I sat in the fourth row. The ceremony audience was a homecoming so to speak for activists from across the country. I saw some people that I have not seen in person for many years. They included Miriam Ben Shalom, Tom Carpenter, Mixner, Kameny, Eric Alva, Zoe Dunning, Greta Cammermeyer, Winchell’s Mother, Aaron Belkin, Dixon Osborne and others.

Congressional leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood on stage. I shook hands with Senators Lieberman and Cohen as well as House Member Rep. Barney Frank. I wanted to shake hands with GOP Senator Olympia Snow but the opportunity did not present itself. I also shook hands with Navy Admiral Mullens who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I thanked Mullens for his service to our country. Greta Cammermeyer led the pledge of allegiance. A Jewish Rabbi gave an invocation (see remarks below). Vice President Joe Biden introduced President Obama. From my distance of about 20 feet I could see Obama move his arm and turn his head.

I am proud to say I have shaken hands with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. I presented an award to President Gerald Ford. I also witnessed President Ford sign a letter I drafted. I have been in the same room or mall to protest or hear every other President since Richard Nixon. Now I was hearing in person for the first time Barack Obama.

My friend Andy Linsky of Palm Springs was another local resident invited to attend the ceremony. The Desert Sun reported that Andy Linsky was invited by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to the ceremony. I was invited by Brian Bond at the White House. Andy has provided strong leadership to both the HRC and the Desert AIDS Project (DAP). He has made generous contributions to local charities. When I told him we wished to honor him with an award in May 2011 for the tenth anniversary of the gay veteran’s memorial in Cathedral City he humbly declined. Andy does not seek public recognition for his hard work to help others. His monuments surround him because of his tireless efforts. Clients of the DAP have received assistance that prolonged their lives. Andy’s work also means gays can report a hate crime, visit their partner in a hospital and now serve openly in the military.

The Desert Sun quoted me in three separate stories last week. My picture was on the front page of the valley section the same morning I was in Washington DC for the ceremony. USA Today interviewed me but I could not locate my comments in the on-line edition of the newspaper.

Many of my friends who worked hard on this issue died before our dream could be realized. From heaven I know they were cheering when President Obama signed the legislation. I am grateful to be a 20 year survivor of AIDS. Some of the people below did not survive AIDS. In memory of these people who I respect for their efforts to lift the ban I present their names below:
(Partial list)

Bud Robbins
Cliff Anchor
Perry Watkins
Tom Stoddard
Leonard Matlovich
Max Woerner
Dr. Paul Hardman
Bob Hattoy
Frank Moon
Randy Shilts
Mark Repass
Venerable Morris Kight
Rusty Pounds

Now it is important that we implement new policies in the military. There must be sensitivity training to cure some soldiers of homophobia. I pray military homophobes will have an open mind and an open heart. During the training process they should put their brains in neutral and their souls in gear

President Obama made the decision to have an invocation at the bill signing ceremony to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Many liberals want to preserve the separation of church and state but the President wanted to include God on this historic occasion that took place in a federal government office building. By contrast prayer is not permitted in public schools.

In his invocation, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff said that there should be unity and not uniformity in the military. He knows that Israel has permitted gays to serve openly in the military for many years. Jewish churches hold “Lovers Covenant” ceremonies to unite married same sex couples.

The Desert Sun article about this ceremony generated many comments from conservative Christians. Some of the comments implied that President Obama has committed a sin by enabling gays to serve openly in the military. In my experience the great sin has not been homosexuals wanting to serve their country. Rather the military terminating the careers of gays. Going on witch hunts to identify gays as well as assaults and harassment of gays is immoral. Discharges that cause gays to lose income which results in lack of food, loss of home, loss of medical care, electricity and phone is ungodly. I have first-hand experience in these matters because I was assaulted on a Navy Base, lost my job and went on unpaid leave for nine months. This injustice was done to me because I told the pentagon I was a proud gay veteran. I describe my successful ACLU case in my book, “For a Greater Good”.

The Catholic Church teaches that for some homosexuality is innate and not to be cured. This is based on the words of Christ Jesus in Matthew 19:12. If homosexuals are born that way why should they be denied military service and other federal benefits that come from service? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “They (homosexuals) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”. The Pentagon has engaged in unjust discrimination that has ruined lives and caused some gays to commit suicide. President Obama has displayed the true love and sense of justice that God desires from all of us. It is a greater good for society to allow gays to serve openly in the military than to discriminate against them.

Thanks for reading and sharing with others.

Tom Swann
(760) 324-5670
(Picture below President Obama signs legislation. Photo courtesy of Bill Kibler)

I ask why spend so much money to go to Washington DC?

John Chapter 12 describes the expensive perfume used to wash Jesus feet before he went to Palm Sunday.

• Breathe deeply in and imagine the smell of a precious scent filling the house. It was an extravagant, wasteful and indulgent thing to do but speaks of a human reality: some opportunities need to be grasped as they arise, some moments need to be honoured, friendship cannot always be calculating.

YouTube.com: The Tom Swann Collection!
Letter from Senator Barbara Boxer

Certificate of Recognition from the City of Palm Springs



Tom served on the national AMVETS Diversity Committee that added sexual orientation to the national bylaws.

Tom founded Riverside County Veterans for Peace and spoke at Camp Casey (Crawford, Texas) with Cindy Sheehan.

Twice, Tom led workshops at the Veterans For Peace national convention on DADT.

Tom attends AMVETS national conventions, Catholic War Veterans national convention and Blinded Veterans Association national conventions.

Spoke on steps of Minnesota state capitol at a peace rally.

Protested 2008 Republican national Convention with Iraq Veterans Against War.

VFP dedicated the peace pole outside Cathedral City Library and at Desert Mirage High Schol in Thermal CA.

Dedicated late Morris Kight peace tree in Palm Springs CA

Tom Swann has donated over $10,000 to charities in the Coachella Valley. This includes $3,000 to Metropolitan Community Church, the flags, rifles and belts for both the Palm Springs Gay Veterans and AMVETS Post 66; also 29 tickets, the cost of the awards and singer at the CA Gay Veterans Memorial Association dinner in September 2000.

Tom Swann graduated from VA blind rehabilitation training and has an injured hand yet he continues to serve the community.

The BottomLine described Venerable Morris Kight and Tom Swann as two of America’s 100 heroes when they co-founded Gay Liberation For 21st Century. This small group asks candidates the toughest questions and attracts the largest crowds at forums. They made the first endorsements ever by gays in Ranch Mirage and sponsored the Morris Kight tree. They met with Assemblymember John Longville on reform of Megan’s Law.

Tom received the 2002 Community Service Organizational Leader of the Year award from the Desert Business Association.

Tom Swann is a legally blind veteran’s activist who has been a leader in civil rights and political causes since 1972. He has turned his AIDS status and HMO Horror Story that caused his blindness to rally and uplift veterans to support the Democratic Party. Three members of Congress nominated him to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS for the next vacant position. Tom was appointed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs HIV and AIDS Community Advisory Board.

As a student-body high school president in Florida he overcame threats from the KKK when an African-American young woman was selected as homecoming queen. Swann has met with both Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks.

Tom Swann was the only state party officer of the California Democratic Party to endorse Mario Obledo for Governor in 1982. Swann marched with the late Cesar Chavez and was campaign treasurer for Gilbert Saldana, Democratic nominee for Congress in 1986.

Tom Swann won an ACLU case vs. Dept. of the Navy in 1994 based upon sexual orientation and AIDS discrimination. Swann’s case won sexual orientation protection for all Navy civilian workers four years before President Clinton signed an Executive Order. Swann was the last gay federal employee to have his access to classified information challenged by the government.

Tom Swann filed California’s first AIDS medical malpractice case and testified before the State of California Managed Health Care Improvement Task Force.

Swann was an original member of LIFE Lobby (1986) and Ventura County Co-Chair of the 1986 No on LaRouche Proposition 69 campaign. He received a report card grade of A on World AIDS Day 1999 from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. for his crusade to improve health care for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Swann was nominated to attend the White House Conference on AIDS and has spoken at the POZ-Life Expo in Hollywood. Tom Swann organized the first meeting of veterans with the White House National AIDS Policy Office and scheduled meetings during AIDS Watch 99 and 2000.

Tom Swann has participated in AIDS medical research since 1985. He has attended AIDS Watch in Washington D.C. and AIDS Lobby Day in Sacramento.

Tom Swann has been a delegate to the William Joiner Conference on the Concerns of Veterans sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives. He has received the American Legion Medal of Merit and Heroism Medal.

Tom received an award from the CA. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Founding Chair, California Democratic Party Veterans Caucus

California Asst. Coordinator Veterans for Gore 2000

Co-Chair, Salute to Veterans Democratic National Convention

Tom is the first LGBT appointed to the Riverside County Veterans Advisory Committee.

Tom Swann is founding chair of the only certified Democratic Party veterans’ caucus in America. The Governor of Kentucky promoted Tom to be an honorary Kentucky Colonel for his work on veteran issues at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

As President of Palm Springs Gay Veterans, he was shown on CNN Headline News when the organization won the right to march in the Palm Springs Veteran’s Day Parade. The group also won the right to join the Desert Veteran’s Memorial Association and sponsored California’s first celebration of the 55th anniversary of victory in World War II.

This veteran’s organization sponsored the April 29, 2000 memorial wreath ceremony at Congressional Cemetery. Also placed the only wreath for gay veterans in California (in Palm Springs) on Memorial Day May 29, 2000.

Governor Gray Davis and State Assembly recognized Tom Swann for spearheading the drive to dedicate Americas first LGBT Veterans Memorial on May 27, 2001.

Tom organized a January 12, 2002 ceremony to honor veterans and American heroes of 9/11. President George Bush sent a letter and President Gerald Ford wrote a letter thanking gay veteran Oliver Sipple for saving his life in 1975.

Tom Swann was called a national hero by NOW President Patricia Ireland when he spoke before the national convention in 1993. Swann voted for women to be eligible for membership in Lions Clubs International.

Tom Swann recieved an award from Palm Springs city council member Ginny Foat

In 2008 a Superior Court jury ruled in favor of Tom’s medical malpractice lawsuit. A doctor delayed referal to a hand surgeon when Tom had a severed nerve in his left wrist.

2008 award from Veterans For Peace at national convention

2011 award from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for service to the HIV Community Advisory Board

Organized a memorial wreath laying ceremony at Congressional cemetery on the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau Nazi Concentration camp. The ceremony included the 6th US Army color guard, the same unit that liberated Dachau.

Tom received an award from the Human Rights campaign and I am in the VA Western Blind Rehab center Hall of Fame

In 1974 Tom was a delegate to the national 4-H Citizenship Short Course in Washington DC

In 1975 Tom attended Florida American Legion Boys State.  I won the VFW Voice of Democracy essay contest.

In 2000 Tom received the Kentucky Colonel award from the Governor

In 2002 Tom received an award from the Palm Springs Human Rights Commission

CA State Senator Sheila James Kuehl and State Senate President John Burton 2003

AVER Vets Ceremony - August 28, 2004

Active Memberships


Member Desert Business Association
Life Member, Blinded Veterans Association
Member Christians in Commerce
Past President, Palm Springs Gay Veterans
Member, California State Democratic Party Central Committee
Past Member, Riverside County Democratic Party Central Committee
Past Secretary, Democrats of the Desert Club
Life Member and Former Board Member Desert Stonewall Democratic Club
Member IELGDC, Eleanor Roosevelt and Stonewall Los Angeles Democratic Clubs
Member, ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Chapter
Member, American Legion Post 448 (San Francisco)
Member, VFW Post 10149 Cathedral City CA.
Appointed two national AMVETS committees
Past District 9 Commander of AMVETS
Founder AMVETS Post 66 in Palm Springs
Member, Blinded Veterans Association of America
Member California’s only Catholic War Veterans Post 762 in San Bernardino
New Member of Disabled American Veterans
Member of 2nd Marine Division Association and Subic Bay Marines
Member, Federal Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE)
Member, National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE)
Member, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc.
Member, Sacred Heart Palm Desert CA
Co-Founder GLF 21
Founder Veterans for Democratic Action
Founder CA Gay Veterans Memorial Association

Tom with employees of the
American Psychological Association

At the Library of Congress

Former Positions


State Secretary and State Vice President California Young Democrats

Secretary Ventura County Democratic Party Central Committee

Drug Awareness Co-Chair California-Nevada Lions Clubs

Picture from 1998 cover of AIDS Project Los Angeles magazine

Tom Swann and Charlie Sharples at America's first memorial dedicated solely to GLBT who died in wars. The memorial is located at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City CA near Palm Springs. The cemetery is where Frank Sinatra is buried at the corner of Da Vall and Ramon near I-10 Website: www.gayveteransmemorial.com

Military Recognition


From 1976-80 I served in the United States Marine Corps and later the U.S. Naval Air Reserve reaching the rank of E-6. I received the Navy Achievement Medal. Also a letter of commendation from the commanding officer of the 6th fleet and four meritorious promotions. I received an award from the Navy Secretary. I have met two chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Navy Achievement Medal – from Major General Al Gray, Commander, 2nd Marine Division (also 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps)

Letter of Commendation – from Vice Admiral Small, Commander, Sixth Fleet

Navy Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

Florida Field, home of the Gators

SGT Swann and Marine Corps friend Rod Mendoza aboard ship at Venice Italy 1978

National Recognition


Facilitated 2 White House meetings on AIDS issues

Testified before California State Legislature

Shaken hands with or been in the same room with every American President since Richard Nixon

Spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Equality Begins at Home (EBAH) rally, Dedication of Harvey Milk Memorial and before employees at the Library of Congress

Parade Marshal at Pride events in Washington, D.C., Norfolk VA. Jacksonville, FL., San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.

Featured CNN Headline News Palm Springs CA Veteran’s Day Parade 1999

Introduced on stage before one million people at the 1993 March on Washington

Organized and sponsored 55th anniversary of victory in World War II and liberation of Dachau Nazi Concentration Camp at Historic Congressional Cemetery Washington D.C.

Placed wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery Tomb of the Unknowns (twice), Veterans Memorial State Capitol and Los Angeles National Veterans Cemetery

Won the right for gays to place a wreath at the Memorial Day ceremonies in Los Angeles and Cathedral City

Color Guard for Allen Schindler Memorial March (Long Beach 1993)

Recipient, Lions Clubs International Award on Youth Activities

Rep. Walter Capps Award and Certificate of Recognition from Democratic Party.

Bob Craig Community Service Award

Palm Springs Human Rights Commission Award

Presidential Stoney Award – Stonewall Democratic Club of Los Angeles

Received Desert Stonewall Lifetime Membership Award Presented by Rep. Barney Frank.

Achievement Award Navy Gay, Lesbian Or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE)

Received Papal Blessing, Saw Holy Shroud and toured Dachau Nazi Concentration Camp

Resolutions from Ventura County Board of Supervisors and Ventura Unified School District

Sergeant U.S. Marine Corps deployed during Iranian Hostage Crisis


Tom "Gator" Swann was born in Gainesville, FL home of the University of Florida.

Student Body President Hernando High School Brooksville Florida Class of 1976

Tom on the far right (circa. 1962)

Tom, Christmas 1963

Bill Kibler and Tom meeting with Brian Bond, Deputy Director at the White House

Tom after meeting with President Clinton staff March 2000

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website by Bill KIbler / GayVeterans.us