SAN DIEGO – More than 250 active-duty servicemembers and veterans made history on Saturday by marching in the San Diego Pride Parade, drawing standing ovations and the loudest cheers from the estimated 155,000 people lining the parade route through Hillcrest.
The troops followed military regulations and did not march in their military uniforms, but instead wore T-shirts that indicated which branch of service they came from: Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Army and Air Force. Many waved American flags and rainbow flags, and others carried placards indicating their branch of service.
Pride organizers told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in an exclusive story published June 13 – which triggered worldwide news coverage -- that they believe this was the first time a military contingent has participated in a Pride parade. Sean Sala, the Navy veteran and local activist who put together the contingent, said that “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!”
The moment could not have been timelier, especially since President Barack Obama on Dec. 22, 2010, signed a bill to end the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which is nearing certification and should be repealed by the fall.
Many San Diego Pride Parade viewers were noticeably moved by the brave gesture by the troops, some wiping tears as they pondered the significance of the moment. Some saluted the troops and veterans, and others hollered “Hooah!”
Marine veteran Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, who left the military via a DADT discharge, told Reuters news service that he hopes to march in his dress blues at next year’s Pride parade.
"One of my friends here has been back from Afghanistan for three days, and when he heard about the parade he said he served in uniform and he should be able to march in uniform," Rodriguez-Kennedy said.
Late Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco half-heartedly and temporarily reinstated DADT after a request from the government, but banned the Pentagon from investigating, penalizing or discharging servicemembers due to the policy. The Pentagon has said that it would not pursue DADT discharges since the repeal is nearing completion.
Still, the active-duty servicemembers who marched Saturday did so with DADT hanging over their heads. Some, however, were not concerned.
"This is one of the proudest days in my life. It's time for it (the policy) to be gone. I'm a soldier no matter what, regardless of my sexual orientation," National Guard member Nichole Herrera said.
Sala said he was overcome with emotion as he marched with the contingent.
"When we were walking, every step of the way it was standing ovations from the crowd," Sala told Reuters. "My mom was with me and it made her cry."
Comedienne Margaret Cho, the featured entertainer at the Pride Festival on Saturday night, opened her show by saluting the troops and telling her audience that she was “weeping” when she saw the military contingent in the parade.
SDGLN Assistant Editor Morgan M. Hurley, a Navy veteran who has had first-hand experience with the DADT policy, said she was so proud of the servicemembers and veterans who had the guts to march in the Pride Parade even though policy has not been officially repealed.
Former sailor Miranda LeClain carried a sign reading: “Proudly USN Served … in Silence for 9 years.”
"This is a dream come true," retired Marine Capt. Kristen Kavanaugh told KGTV in San Diego. "It's the beginning of something where we can be proud about who we are and about the job that we're doing to help this nation."
On Sunday afternoon, Sala stopped by SDGLN’s booth at the Pride Festival and spoke about the impact of the military marching in the parade and the global coverage that it received.
Sala said he searched the Internet over the weekend and found hundreds of stories about the historical march published in all corners of the globe. He said he traced the roots of the story back to SDGLN, which broke the story in June. Since then, Sala said he had spoken about the march to numerous news and television reporters, and the former Navy operations specialist was even featured on the usnavyseals.com blog.
For many people, the 37th Pride Parade will forever be remembered for the brave servicemembers who came out and marched despite DADT, and received a much-deserved salute from San Diegans who are proud of their service to their country.
Rex Wockner captured moment on video
San Diego LGBT journalist Rex Wockner captured the historical march on video and posted it on You Tube.
NBC San Diego video
View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.
ABC 7 Los Angeles video