Congressional Cemetery was established in 1807 and was America's first de-facto national cemetery. Contrary to what the name implies, it is not owned by the government but by nearby Christ Church. It takes its name from the fact that so many historical figures, including some 80 members of the Senate and House are buried or memorialized there, leading Congress to periodically contribute to the upkeep of "The Congressional Burying Ground". Thus it became known as Congressional Cemetery.
The Cemetery is known for its square "Cenotaph" monuments to Senators and Representatives who died in Office. Including some 80 members of the House and Senate, the Cemetery is the burial place for over 60,000 people. It is the final resting place of privates to generals of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican War, and both Union and Confederate soldiers. Before Arlington and the creation of the national cemetery system, Congressional Cemetery was the resting place of not only our military heroes but also politicians, foreign diplomats, explorers, Indian chiefs, socialites, merchants and working people of the new capital on the Potomac.
Also buried at the Cemetery is Leonard Matlovich who was discharged from the Air Force in the early 1970s for being a gay man. His tombstone is a significant attraction for visitors to the Cemetery for its poignant inscription- "They gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one". Although still among the living, Tom Swann's tombstone reads "Proud Gay Veteran".
Why Congressional Cemetery and not the Washington Mall?
For the past twenty years LGBT veteran groups have held ceremonies at Congressional Cemetery. Notable among those groups is American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER), the oldest of the LGBT veteran groups in the nation. AVER celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2011. Many other LGBT veteran groups have formed in recent years and the Cemetery provides a welcoming space in the nation;s Capitol to honor our living and our dead.
The political climate is such that it would still take years to get Congressional approval to place a monument on the Washington Mall. That should be a goal for the future. This memorial will differ from a monument on the Mall in that veterans will be able to memorialize their service on the grounds of the National LGBT Veterans Memorial. For details see the Memorial Concept page. Our veterans deserve to have a place to carry out the charge by Leonard Matlovich to set an example for those activists who follow us by leaving "a lasting record of our accomplishments -including the acknowledgment that you were gay or lesbian" (bisexual or transgender).
Note: Material about Congressional Cemetery came from official Cemetery publications.