"We are visible, responsible, and professional."
One of the finest moments in the San Diego Gay Pride Parade is seeing the representation of servicemembers from all branches of the military march down the street. It's a defining moment which honors not only the people in uniform but the years of activism and legislation that forged the way for a more tolerant armed forces we see today. Unfortunately, the current administration is trying to undo some of that progress.
So it's more important than ever that our LGBT veterans and active servicemembers represent themselves, and each year the San Diego LGBT Pride Military Contingent makes that possible by taking to the streets of Pride becoming visible to the over 200,000 bystanders who line the mile-plus stretch of parade route.
Clay Kilpatrick and Kelly Gilliland are co-chairs of the Military Contingent and say every year there's an increase in participation. "As more and more active duty and veterans learn of the opportunity to represent themselves in a positive and supporting environment, they get the courage and acceptance to share both worlds, LGBT and military, and can celebrate both in one day."
But as courageous as these men and women are there are still many who believe there will be a negative impact on their careers if they come out in such a public way. But Kilpatrick says people who participate in the march can meet others with similar challenges and maybe start to overcome them, "It is a great way to network and to seek guidance on career advice, and to show the larger military that we have a strong and supportive community."
In order to march in uniform, there are official formalities that need to be handled beforehand from the branch you're representing. There were some instances in the past when the participant didn't get the go-ahead from the brass, Kilpatrick says it's rare, but it happens.
"We have had participants who upon returning to work were counseled for not getting prior approval to march in their uniform. When anyone registers, we provide links to the current military guidelines and we encourage everyone to notify their command of the intent to march in uniform. The DoD, Navy, and Marine Corps all release directives encouraging local commands to support all members who wish to participate in Pride events, including the wearing of their branch uniforms. San Diego Pride has done a great job of supporting anyone who was counseled by providing supporting documentation and going to higher levels within the chain of command to support our participants."
Also, there have been times when the military has denied someone's request to participate. For instance, two years ago the Coast Guard didn't allow one of its members to carry the Coast Guard colors in the parade.
"The reason cited was security and safety, and when we told the command of the DoD directives, they informed us that they are not part of the DoD, but Homeland Security, and therefore the directive did not apply to them," Kilpatrick explains."That year we had the Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning as the Parade Grand Marshall, and security was extremely tight, including teams posted all along the parade route for security. It was very disappointing that the Coast Guard did not support their service member by allowing him to participate in carry the Coast Guard flag, and we have not had anyone since then participate in Color Guard. We do have Coast Guard members who march, but not in uniform. They are all welcome to join us, and can proudly march behind the Coast Guard banner."
However, you can still march without prior approval, or out of uniform. Any active duty member can wear a t-shirt with all branches listed in lieu of uniforms. You can register HERE, just provide a shirt size, then pick it up at registration on Saturday morning and join the over 200 active duty, veterans, and dependents from The Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and California National Guard in the contingent.
Kilpatrick feels that this year it's more important than ever for service members to come out and join the march, he says the community is still under attack.
"We need to show that we are a diverse and strong community of people who every day are willing to put their lives on the line to support our great country," he said. "We are visible, responsible, and professional. We come from all branches of the military, and all walks of life. We have newly enlisted service members marching next to senior enlisted and officers, next to veterans who have all fought for our rights to participate in these events. Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, if you are wearing or have ever worn the uniform of our country, you are welcome to participate in the San Diego Pride Military Contingent. We are Out, Loud, and Proud, and deserve the respect of everyone. Hope to see you all on Saturday, July 14."
The San Diego Pride Parade takes place on Saturday, July 14 at 11 am.
For more information on the San Diego LGBT Pride Military Contingent click HERE.