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SAN DIEGO – The 2012 San Diego LGBT Pride weekend will go down in history … for making history.
Let’s count the ways:
1. The first time American troops have been allowed to march in their military uniforms at a gay parade, a momentous step toward full equality and another milestone set after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
2. The first time a gay sailor has proposed marriage to his boyfriend in the middle of the Pride Parade, temporarily halting the procession as fellow service members stopped to embrace the joyous occasion.
3. The first time that a giant rainbow flag symbolizing the diversity of San Diego, dedicated Friday night, flew high above the site where the Pride Parade kicks off, at the intersection of University Avenue and Normal Street and within eyesight of the newly designated Harvey Milk Street leading to The San Diego LGBT Community Center.
4. The largest attendance in Pride history, estimated at almost 200,000, turning Hillcrest and Balboa Park into a sea of humanity and celebration.
The military contingent, which made history last year but was forced to march in T-shirts representing their branch of service, kicked off the parade on Saturday and received thunderous applause as the service members marched down University, then Sixth Avenue to Balboa Park.
Spectators yelled their lungs out, some wiped tears from their eyes, others saluted the men and women representing the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Almost 400 active duty service members and veterans marched in the parade, nearly double the size of last year's contingent.
The 2012 contingent was led by a Marine sergeant in her dress blue uniform, proudly carrying the American flag. Sgt. Bris Holland, 30, told reporters that she did two tours in Iraq. Her 7-year-old son, Kannon, and her partner, Jaxs Jacquez, 30, walked behind Holland in the parade.
San Diego being a proud Navy town, it is no surprise that the sailors fielded the largest number of veterans and active duty service members, followed by the Marines, which also have a significant presence in the city and county of San Diego.
But even though the Department of Defense (DoD) on Thursday gave blanket permission for all branches of the military to march in this year’s parade, a number of the marchers chose to wear their T-shirts instead of full military uniform. The DoD decision applied only to the 2012 San Diego Pride Parade, though many expect the Pentagon to review the parade videos and determine whether to allow this permanently. Judging from the enthusiasm of the spectators, this decision appears to be a slam-dunk for the DoD.
Saturday's march by the military contingent in uniform came on the eve of the first anniversary of when President Barack Obama certified the repeal of DADT. Sixty days later, DADT itself vanished into history on Sept. 22, 2011.
The Los Angeles Times interviewed a lesbian couple and their son at the Pride parade:
Among those in uniform was Navy Petty Officer Erica Tello, 29, who has deployed as a firefighter aboard the carriers Nimitz and Carl Vinson. Her partner, Danielle Pinango, 24, who recently left active duty, stood beside her, holding their 3-month-old son, Noah.
"This is history," Tello said. "Being able to wear our uniforms says that we really are equal, at last."
Sean Sala, a 27-year-old veteran who served in the Navy and one of the organizers of the military contingent for the past two years, called this year’s march “a landmark day.” He said this year was about “personal empowerment” of out service members and their families, as opposed to last year when it was about “civil rights” and the repeal of DADT.
Sala told the UT San Diego:
“I think everybody wants to make it a gay thing, but it’s just an American thing,” he said. “These are people that have laid down their lives for their country, you know, and they deserve recognition for their service regardless of their sexuality.”
Navy Senior Chief Dwayne Beebee and his boyfriend, Johnathan Franqui, drove all the way to San Diego from Pensacola, Fla., so he could march in the parade. He was dressed in his dress whites as he marched in the parade with Franqui.
Suddenly, in the middle of the parade, Beebee dropped to one knee and asked his boyfriend to marry him … as fellow sailors watched in shock and awe.
Franqui immediately teared up, and his jaw dropped. Then he said yes! And they embraced to cheers and well wishes -- and the march resumed.
Beebee told the Navy Times:
“It was amazing, really,” Beebe, who drove with Franqui 30 hours from their Pensacola, Fla., home to attend the gay pride parade, said after the parade. “This is one time. This is history.”
“I was, like, exhilarated inside,” he added.
“This is history,” U.S. Navy Petty Officer Erica Tello said. “Being able to wear our uniforms says that we really are equal, at last.”
Pride weekend kicked off Friday with the Spirit of Stonewall Rally and the raising of the giant rainbow flag as a permanent fixture over Hillcrest.
Public reaction to Pride weekend
The weekend made an impression on many people, who took to Facebook to share their memories.
Peter Banderas: “So much fun this year. Lots to do & the beer gardens were a lot more better because we were able to purchase drinks with cash or card not just with tickets. I was a super fun pride.”
Jeff Gilson: “Pride was an outpouring of love. We celebrated ourselves. We are not alternative, we are normal. We are proud, we are gay, we are human.”
Luke Terpstra: “The Hillcrest Town Council Clean TEAM always enjoys our efforts in the parade. Number # 1, we have fun, # 2, we always find volunteers to join the TEAM at post Pride clean up on Monday morning at 7 am at University and Park, # 3, we find people who might be interested in joining the HTC and getting involved in their HILLCREST community. So it is a win win for us, fun and exposure.”
Mark Simmons: "Very cool!! I'm a straight guy who supports the rights of others!! Thanks so much for your service. Because of you, is what makes our country GREAT!!!"
Lola Warner: "We're proud grandparents of one of those sailors!!!"
Gustav J Achterberg: "I'm going to get beat up over my comments but I do not see any good coming from our service members marching in a GAY Pride parade. Retired, Straight and Proud!!"
Jeffrey Joe: "As a veteran, I'm VERY pleased to see these folks exercising their civil rights and their patriotism. I marched in uniform to stop the war in Viet Nam and I was reviled and cursed. I still stopped the war. YES!"
Mary Long: "It is about time. These men and women serve our country and should not have to hide their sexuality for fear of losing their jobs."
Magy Haüg: "this makes me so incredibly happy! wish i could have been there to march :)"
Emily Bott Allan: "The fact that these human beings were denied rights...rights which mind you, they are fighting for, is just absurd. I am sooooo proud to be an American and represented by such upstanding individuals. Time and time again, San Diego proved it is Americas finest city in more ways than one. ♥"
Cameron Galpin: "It was A-MAZING! I was overwhelmed with emotion, and still get choked up about it! :)"
George Rowe: "Great! Freedom for all, it's an American thing. Best blessings to all of our Military People for defending us and our Nation."
Shawn VanDiver: "It was amazing to be a part of this. So awesome to be able to support the LGBT community in the services."
Electra Hale: “I marched for HP in the parade with my husband, my three young daughters, and my mother. I thought is was awesome!!! It was all I could do to keep from crying, seeing all those thousands of people united for one cause... LOVE. What a great experience for my children! Thank you!”
San Diego Pride video: First Ever Approved Active Duty Uniformed Military Contingent Approved by the US Government
San Diego LGBT Gay Pride Parade - July 26 2012 - military march – CNN