by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On July 21, for the first time in our nation's history, members of the U.S. military marched in a Gay Pride parade in uniform.
Led by a Marine sergeant wearing her dress blues and bearing the American flag aloft, several hundred servicemembers marched through the streets of Hillcrest, San Diego's Gay neighborhood. A crowd estimated at 200,000 whistled, waved, cheered, and applauded the march. Some saluted. Others shouted, 'Thank you for your service!'
All branches of the military were represented and although most of the military personnel wore T-shirts designating their branch of service, four dozen active-duty and retired servicemembers wore their uniform.
'This is history,' Navy Petty Officer Erica Tello, 29, who has deployed as a firefighter aboard the carriers Nimitz and Carl Vinson, told the Los Angeles Times at the event. 'Being able to wear our uniforms says that we really are equal, at last.'
Gay advocates hailed the announcement, made by a deputy assistant secretary of defense on July 19, to authorize military personnel to wear their uniforms in the San Diego parade as a clear sign that DADT is gone forever. Because the DoD has clear guidelines prohibiting uniformed servicemembers from making a political statement, the Pentagon told members of the military they could participate in the Pride parade provided they did nothing to bring 'discredit' to the service.
Many of those marching have deployed to combat zones or told reporters they have partners who are deployed to Afghanistan or on ships. The flag bearer, Marine Sgt. Bris Holland, 30, has done two tours in Iraq.
Stewart Bornhoft, 65, retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Colonel. A West Point graduate, former Army Ranger and Vietnam veteran, Bornhoft marched with the contingent in uniform. He said the chance to wear the uniform in a Gay Pride parade 'is what we've been working for. It says, 'It's OK to be Gay.'
The event also drew groups of servicemembers assigned to the same unit or ship. Six sailors from the guided-missile destroyer William P. Lawrence marched in uniform.
'We all took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,' said Petty Officer Virginia Hansen, 27, whose job involves guiding weapon systems. 'Being able to wear our uniforms shows that it's not just straight people who serve their country, it's all of us.'
The historic event also saw servicemembers from different parts of the country participate.
Marine Sgt. James Dunn, 24, a reservist who did two tours in Iraq, came to San Diego from his home in Montana to be in the parade with his partner, a civilian.
'Finally we can stand up and be counted,' Dunn said.
Not everyone celebrated the decision to allow servicemembers to march in a Pride parade, however. Congressional Republicans challenged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday to explain why the Defense Department allowed active-duty troops to wear their uniforms while marching.
In a letter to Panetta, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said department rules bar servicemembers from participating in political activities while in uniform, and he pressed Panetta on why a waiver was granted, who requested it, and why it was considered over others.
Inhofe, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also pointed out that administrative action has been taken against servicemembers who have violated the rule, said the Associated Press.
'If the Navy can punish a chaplain for participating in a pro-life event or a Marine participating in a political rally, it stands to reason that the Defense Department should maintain the same standard and preclude servicemembers in uniform from marching in a Gay Pride parade,' Inhofe wrote.
In a statement accompanying the letter, Inhofe said he was concerned that the Obama administration 'continues to force its liberal social agenda on the military by promoting the homosexual agenda, mandating the use of high-cost green energy initiatives, pursuing abortion rights, and suppressing the free exercise of religious liberties.'
According to the Pentagon, officials had already explained the exception. The department said it was made because organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniforms and the event was getting national attention.
The waiver applied only to this year's parade in San Diego.
The Obama administration, with the backing of Congress, ended DADT last year. Nevertheless, several Republicans in Congress have been critical of the change in policy and have pushed legislation to limit it. In direct contrast to GOP politicians, high-ranking military officials have said the repeal has not had a negative impact on the moral and welfare of troops or military readiness.
In fact, Pentagon officials were supportive of the DoD's decision to allow uniformed members of the military march in the San Diego Pride parade.
'I got an e-mail from my admiral last night supporting my decision to wear my uniform,' Navy Senior Chief Dwayne Beebe, 38, a culinary specialist who has done multiple deployments, told the Times. 'That's a major change.'
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