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)