Karen Ocamb

About 350 Gay Servicemembers March in San Diego Pride Parade

Filed By Karen Ocamb | July 17, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: active duty military, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Dykes on Bikes, gay military, gay soldiers, pride parade, San Diego

Gay servicemembers and vets lineup to march in the San Diego Pride Parade on Saturday, July 16 (Photo by Rex Wockner)

Around 11:00am Pacific time on Saturday, July 16, about 350 active duty and veteran servicemembers made history stepping off as the third contingent (behind Dykes on Bikes) in the annual San Diego Gay Pride Parade. Their participation comes the day after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – but with the proviso that the military can not investigate, penalize, or discharge any servicemember believed to be gay as the Court hears the Log Cabin Republicans v US case challenging DADT.

The idea for servicemembers to participate in the parade came from Sean Sala, 26, who served six years as a Navy operations specialist; he was discharged on June 30, 2011, according to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"I'm getting emails from veterans and active-duty officers and enlisted from all over the nation. There are people flying in literally from the four corners of the nation to participate in this," Sala told the Union-Tribune. "It's turned from a very small idea to, now, a national movement."

In a conference call coordinated by San Diego gay reporter Rex Wockner, Sala told Metro Weekly's Chris Geidner and me that around 100 people started gathering before their meeting time at 10:00am and the contingent has continually swelled up until step-off time. Earlier he told the newspaper that of the 350 people signed up to participate, about 70 percent are active-duty servicemembers and the majority are gay. Wockner reported that many in the contingent are wearing tee shirts with military colors and emblazed with the names of their branch of service - Navy grey and Marine green. Wockner said he did not see any tee shirts with Air Force or Army, which is not unusual since San Diego is known as more for the Navy-Marine bases. Wockner also noted that a flat-bed truck was also being used in the parade that looked as if it was once a convoy vehicle.

Vets marching in San Diego Pride Parade (Photo by Michael Gildea)

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis told the Union-Tribune that the march gave him”some concerns.” But added, "having said that, they are not in uniform, they are not speaking, no one knows who is gay or who's straight. I think the risks are minimal for the service members…There is an eagerness to celebrate, and there's years of pent-up frustration…So what they want to do is very understandable."

Wockner reported that he walked backward for the first four blocks of the parade, heading west on University through the gay neighborhood of Hillcrest, shooting photos, video and gauging the response of the crowd, estimated by city officials to be about 155,000.

Wockner reported the servicemembers were "having a high" when they stepped off, "cheering raucously and hooraying."

And, he said, "The response was deafening, inspiring - there was a collective sense that something was happening that hadn't happened before."

Wockner said that he stood his ground to try to count the number of participants in the contingent. He said they were broken into four groups: slightly more than 140 Navy in the first group, followed by slightly more Marines, with fewer than 10 Air Force and a handful of Army and Coast Guard brought up the rear.

He was not able to check closely for a good guess on how many might have been active duty. He said one can tell in

Log Cabin Republican Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper telling actress Meredith Baxter about the Court order on DADT at the San Diego Pride Spirit of Stonewall Awards Friday night. Baxter is the parade Grand Marshall and Cooper received a "Champion of Pride" award. (Photo courtesy R. Clarke Cooper)

San Diego by the style of the military haircuts and facial hair.

Wockner also said that he was unaware of any discussion about DADT. However, there was "no tension, nobody looked nervous or concerned. It was really a celebratory moment [as if] those days were over and this was the first public expression of that fact. It was extremely celebratory."

Wockner also watched to see if the enthusiasm carried over to the other major participants or if the crowd reaction was unique to the servicemembers. He said there was nowhere near the same response for recently out actress Meredith Baxter, the Grand Marshall, or Daniel Hernandez, a hero from the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona, or comedienne Margaret Cho or the contingent of 200 police officers in uniform that followed the celebrities.

Wockner says he'll post photos and video by today.

(Crossposted at LGBT POV)

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^.^ Lead, Follow, or get the hella outta our way! OHHRAH! ...I don't like'em, I LOVE'EM! :D

Best wishes to my San Diego friends for a happy and historic Pride weekend! Wish I could be there with you. Congratulations to all of our servicemembers who marched yesterday! And thank you for your service.

I am so thankful to have lived to see the day that our Gay Pride celebrations can include groups such as this. Reading this caused my eyes to water, and my response includes the police contingents as well. San Diego and our country, LGBT and straight alike, had 350 + 200 special reasons to be proud this year.

Thanks, Karen and Rex, for covering this story so well for us -- and please do so again next year.

While I'm thrilled to see so many particpating [and more and more apparently willing to risk being out while SLDN, et al., pathetically bleat, "Hide, Bambi, hide!"], and this is not remotely meant to be a criticism of them, contrary to the sad ignorance of contingent organizer Mr. Sala and longtime gay journalist Rex Wockner quoted in multiple other gay and mainstream media, this is NOT the first time active duty gay service members participated in a Pride parade. That--as documented in Randy Shilt's landmark book on the ban, "Conduct Unbecoming--was ... wait for it ... drum roll ... THIRTY-SIX YEARS AGO when Army PV2 Debbie Watson and her partner Army PFC Barbara Randolph, Air Force SGT Skip Keith, and Air Force TSGT Leonard Matlovich, along with a group of gay veterans, participated in the 1975 New York Pride Parade. Barack Obama was only 13 at the time. Photos at: http://tinyurl.com/66yoeou and http://tinyurl.com/6ywq9p6

Given indifference today to any part of our Community’s history not spoon fed to them, one isn't surprised someone as young as Mr. Sala or even the presumably older organizers of SD Pride were unaware of that, but were Sala, Wockner, et al., they in a coma two years ago when it was widely publicized—particularly in California—that then still-serving Army National Guard LT. Dan Choi was one of the grand marshals of San Francisco's Pride Parade? In addition, gay and lesbian veterans have been appearing as such in Pride events for at least a quarter century—including in San Diego. Is there NO respect for those who came before?

Cavalier "Firstitis" has really gotten out of hand in our Community. Harvey Milk--first out gay elected official. Nope. Not even the second, third, or fourth. California's John Perez--first out leader of a state legislature. Nope. LCR ruling the first time the ban was found unconstitutional. Nope. Now this, and, ironically, after New York pride organizers invited Dan to appear in their march last year, they claimed THAT was the first time anywhere, too, totally ignorant of/ignoring his appearance in SF the year before that I noted above.

“Remember your roots, your history, and the forebears' shoulders on which you stand.” - Marion Wright Edelman