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SDGLN exclusive: Active duty servicemembers asked to participate in San Diego Pride Parade

SAN DIEGO -- A small group of troops are working with San Diego Pride to organize a contingent to honor LGBT active duty and veteran servicemembers at this year's San Diego LGBT Pride Parade.

While LGBT veterans groups have participated in San Diego's Pride Parade for a number of years, organizers believe that this is the first time an active push has been made to also encourage those currently serving in the U.S. armed forces to walk.

Local activist and recent veteran Sean Sala, who is spearheading the effort, is hoping to see a large number of active duty and veteran service members participate in the parade contingent so they receive the honor they deserve.

"This contingent was organized because of the vast amount of active duty and veterans that live in Hillcrest community," Sala said. "We always see (as we should) police officers and firefighters [being honored in the parade], but never those military members that SO deserve to be honored for their service!"

Sala is inviting active duty and veteran service members to walk in the contingent, which will be one of the first groups in this year's parade lineup, held Saturday, July 16, starting at 11 am.

Those active duty servicemembers who participate in the contingent will receive a decal T-shirt, customized with the various branches of service, to recognize their military affiliation. Military regulations prohibit active duty servicemembers from wearing their uniforms in the parade.

With President Barack Obama signing a bill to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) on Dec. 22, 2010, the LGBT community is eagerly awaiting the implementation of the repeal.

While some participants may want to protest DADT in the contingent, Sala noted that is not the focus. The purpose of the contingent, he said, is to give servicemembers, especially those who identify as LGBT, the honor that they deserve.

"This walk is not to make any political statements," Sala said.

"As Americans, all servicemembers, straight or gay, serving or have served in the military, should be honored," Sala said. "Some might ask, oh is this a rally for gay military? No! This is an expression from the gay and straight Hillcrest community to our military, whoever it may be, to be welcome in Hillcrest and honored in the 2011 Pride Parade along with other public servants."

Sala says that some active duty servicemembers have expressed to him that they are fearful to participate since DADT has not yet been completely repealed, but said that participants should not be afraid.

"All regulations have been met [for participating in a parade]," Sala said. "This is not a political march, this is not a political statement, no one in active duty status will be in uniform, and you cannot be prosecuted as per military regulations for just being at a gay event, especially one that honors the honorable."

However, contingent organizers recommend that any active duty servicemember with questions or concerns about participation in the parade contact Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). The organization can be reached by phone at (202) 328-3244 or by submitting a request through their online form.

Sala and his team are hoping that active duty servicemembers and veterans will join in the contingent and spread the word.

"This is the first military-themed contingent which will include active duty servicemembers ever to be in San Diego Pride," Sala said. "We want military from all over San Diego to come and be honored."

Sala also made it clear that all military connected individuals, LGBT or straight, are welcome to participate. "Hillcrest loves and honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "Pure and simple."

Interested participants should RSVP on the Facebook event page. For more information, contact Sala at seansala@gmail.com.

Contingent organizers are also looking for individuals who would like to sponsor its efforts and San Diego Pride is looking for individuals to help underwrite its continued support of the military community by providing free admission to the Pride Festival for active duty service members. For more information on supporting these efforts, contact San Diego Pride's Executive Director Dwayne Crenshaw at dwayne@sdpride.org.

More information about San Diego Pride is available online.