By CLIFF DUNN
SAN DIEGO — In a parade that included two retired colonels and was led by a Marine sergeant wearing dress blues and bearing the Stars and Stripes, hundreds of active-duty and retired service members marched on Saturday in San Diego’s LGBT Pride, an historic event that marks the first time armed forces personnel have been allowed to wear their military uniforms in a gay event.
The estimated crowd of 200,000 cheered, saluted, and applauded the gay service members who paraded through the city’s predominantly gay Hillcrest neighborhood. The soldiers, seamen, Marines, and airmen— representing all U.S. armed forces—were told “Thank you for your service!” by many who waved placards. Most wore T-shirts to indicate their branch of service, while about 50 wore their uniforms. “This is a truly historic event,” said retired Col. Tim McDermott (USMC), 55, whose service included two combat tours in Iraq.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” added retired Col. Stewart Bornhoft (USA), 65, a West Point graduate, former Army Ranger, and Vietnam veteran, adding, “It says, ‘It’s OK to be gay.’” Dozens of service members marched alongside an Army truck bearing a rainbow flag, and a banner that read “Freedom to Serve.” “Today is so important,” said Lt. Brian McKinney (USN), who marched with his civilian partner, Hunter Hammonds. “It’s about putting on my uniform and taking pride in my service, my fellow service-members, my family, and myself.
It’s something I’m incredibly thankful for.” Cmdr. Kent Blade (USN), 47, a 26-year veteran who will retire this year, said that marching in uniform at a Pride event was the perfect end to his career as a professional sailor. He said that after the repeal last year of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, his fellow officers gave him unconditional support. “We’ve all been able to talk more freely about our lives. Nobody’s leading a second life,” Blade said. “And now that I can march freely in uniform, I think it’s a great display for the Navy.”
The decision to allow active duty service members to march—and in uniform—came after several days of official discussion. Last Thursday, a Defense Department official authorized military personnel to wear their uniforms, provided they did nothing to bring “discredit” to the armed forces, or appear to be making a political statement. “I got an email from my admiral last night, supporting my decision to wear my uniform,” Senior Chief Dwayne Beebe (USN), 38, told reporters. “That’s a major change.”
Sgt. James Dunn, 24, a Marine reservist who was deployed for two tours in Iraq, went from Montana with his civilian partner to march. “Finally we can stand up and be counted,” said Dunn. Most of the armed service members knew that they were marching alongside history, and recognized the history-making role they had played. “I was just the messenger,” said Sgt. Bris Holland (USMC) about marching as the parade’s flag bearer. “It could have been anybody. It’s been a long time coming.”