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Can Military Members Wear Uniforms While Marching In Pride Parade?

July 19, 2012 1:28 p.m.


Dwane Crenshaw, San Diego LGBT Pride, executive director

Sean Sala, Navy veteran, participant in the military contingent for SD Pride parade.

Related Story: San Diego Military Members Can Show Their Pride - In Uniform


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego's LGBT community has a lot to celebrate heading into this weekend's annual pride festival. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone, federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality in California, and Hillcrest now has a street named after Harvey milk, and for this weekend, the neighborhood has a very, very, very large rainbow flag. But there are still a few complications on the horizon regarding members of the military participating in uniform in this year's pride parade. We'll talk about it all with my guests, Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director of San Diego LGBT pride. Welcome to the program.

CRENSHAW: Good afternoon. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Sean Salla is here, a Navy veteran, he'll be marching with the military contingent in the pride parade. Welcome to the show.

SALLA: How are you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Great. Thank you very much. Now, Dwayne, tell me about having the military represented in this year's parade. It's the first year after Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Are you expecting a big military turnout?

CRENSHAW: We are. We had the first ever military contingent in a parade last year prior to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And this year, we're excited that there will be a number of service members who will be able to wear their uniforms. And we expect a huge crowd. It was probably the most emotional moment of the parade last year. We expect over 300 service members and their families.

CAVANAUGH: Remind us of the kinds of consequences gay service members might have faced if they identified themselves with their military uniforms as military in the pride parade last year.

CRENSHAW: Well, under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, of course LGBT service members were repressed and oppressed and not able to fully be their authentic selves. Service members, gay and lesbian, serve in uniform, and they should have the rights to serve on the streets and show their patriotism. This is about being honored by the community.

CAVANAUGH: It's been back and forth over the last few days over whether service members could march in this year's parade in uniform. It's caused quite a bit of confusion. What's the latest?

SALLA: The latest I know is that this was a deputy commander yesterday that issued a statement to naval medical center San Diego saying that sailors were not allowed to do it in uniform. It caused quite the reaction through San Diego. Of then the admiral that was over the Navy region southwest issued a statement that said all naval personnel are allowed to wear their uniform via the proper chain and letting their chain of command certify it. But he pretty much said that no chain of command has a right to deny it. But just follow the proper procedures and you will be granted. And that was Navy region southwest, every single sailor in Navy region southwest which is a very large spectrum.

CAVANAUGH: Why was there so much confusion?

SALLA: You know, it shouldn't be a confusing thing. The thing was that gay pride parades are still very taboo, when it's still just very much what a person is. When I looked at the DOD policy, it says that an applicant, if they want to participate, they're encouraged to participate in civic events, nonpolitical, and patriotic in nature. The military contingent, largest civic event in San Diego, San Diego pride, nonpolitical, people want to make being gay political, but it is part of who somebody is. It's just like a Martin Luther King day parade, and it's patriotic in nature. Just because Don't Ask, Don't Tell is gone doesn't mean there aren't still some issues with the taboo of the subject, or you could have a commander who's even antigay.

CAVANAUGH: What about wearing your uniform if you're in other branches of the military? Is there a different yes and no situation?

SALLA: Well, we have been dealing -- there was, sadly, every single marine I talked to said they were too afraid to ask their command. Every single marine. Or they said you must be crazy to think I'm going to put in a request for that. And I think that speaks for itself. It's very sad. There was a girl from the coast guard that I had been talking to. She's put in a request twice. Now, the coast guard is department of homeland security. I'm not an expert on that. But her reaction from her commander was this. That her wearing her uniform in a pride military contingent was equivalent to wearing it at an NRA meeting or a planned parenthood convention. And that's just unacceptable. It's not the job of a commander to voice their opinion on if being gay is political. It's their job to follow policy.

CAVANAUGH: And yet, there is an awful lot of red tape that goes on in where and when service members are allowed to wear their uniform. Just recently we did a show on a controversial poster. Two women were breast feeding in uniform, and it caused a major concern. So is it really more about or at least in part about where that uniform should be seen and how it should be seen as opposed to really any prejudice against the LGBT community?

SALLA: I think there might be a proper mixture of the two. But just dealing with the responses from doing it last year to this year, last year we wore T-shirts and people were telling me you're being political. So I definitely know that it is the LGBT issue that is the biggest factor for people being reluctant. I know that for a fact.

CAVANAUGH: Dwayne, is the best advice for service members to get permission from their commanders, whatever branch, to confirm that they can wear their uniform in this parade?

CRENSHAW: We absolutely encourage, and that is the requirement that individual service members approach their command and get approval. And as you mentioned, we do have the broader support from the Navy. I think there's an airforce member who will be marching in uniform as well. But we definitely, definitely ask that peach service member would get the appropriate command. And I think one of the things that Sean is mentioning, the march last year was very dignified. And when you're in your uniform, you want to represent the armed services appropriately. And I think folks will do that. Of we are going to be instructing that tonight at our preplanning meeting. But yes, please ask for permission, and follow the policy on how you wear your uniform and honor your country.

CAVANAUGH: Before we move onto the other victories that I know this festival is going to be celebrating, I want to mention that today the White House honored the San Diego-based military acceptance project for its work in the LGBT and military communities. They were honored as one of the nation's champions of change. Sean is a Navy veteran. This kind of acceptance must be a far cry from when you served in the military.

SALLA: Oh! It's amazing because -- this all has happened in a year. I mean, I look at the month I got out last June, active duty March, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is certified for repeal, and I literally -- I remember six years in the Navy where you did not breathe if you were gay to now the Secretary of Defense is announcing that it's June pride month. I mean, it's amazing. And it's funnily because I also work with the largest LGBT military organization, service members united, are and the tone is so much different, and so much more what can we do as opposed to people having to demand. Sometimes you have to demand, but it is a lot of what can we do to help the gay community now? It's amazing.

CAVANAUGH: That's one victory. The pride festival is celebrating another victory this year on marriage equality, at least according to the 9th circuit of appeals in California. And President Obama's statement in support of same-sex marriage. What kind of impact has it had, Dwayne?

CRENSHAW: It has really been an historic year in the LGBT civil rights community. I think it's probably one of the best years on record for the movement. President Obama coming out in it favor of equality really starts to set the trend. And the majority now support marriage equality. So the Courts have held in California on doma and other states across the country, we're moving -- doctor king said the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Marriage is between love and love, and that seems to be on the right path.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the LGBT pride parade has always been about working toward progress, working toward progress for the community. Considering that some things still need to be done for full equality. Will any of the floats or any of the marchers be representing that on any of our political issues?

CRENSHAW: Our entire theme this year is America's pride. We know from our constitution, it tells us all men are created equal. That's our whole theme. We have had some great successes. The movement for equality was not easy, and it certainly is not over. That is the whole message this year that we want to claim. The full equality of communities, we want to work on antibullying in our schools, even in the military. Marriages are still not recognized amongst LGBT service members and the benefits that are afforded to those individuals. So there's a lot to be done yet. We have had a great year, some of the larger issues that you mentioned. But the march, the parade, the festival, we celebrate and remind and encourage people we need to continue to work for equality.

CAVANAUGH: Harvey milk, San Francisco's first openly gay politician, assassinated more than 30 years ago, that street in Hillcrest now named in his honor, doesn't some preparation actually happen on that street?

CRENSHAW: I love that the parade starts there, on Harvey Milk and normal street. It's kind of an irony.


CRENSHAW: The flag will go up around 7:00 PM, so we encourage everyone to come out for that.

CAVANAUGH: I don't believe that the pride parade has been around for nearly 40 years in San Diego, I don't think you were there in the beginning. But can you tell us how the parade has changed over the years?

CRENSHAW: This is the 38th pride celebration. And folks will share that in 1974, there were a lot of folks who walked with bags or their heads. They wanted to walk, but they were afraid of the repercussions. The police were not working with them but against them. And now we have police in the parade marching along. So it has come a long ways. Of the parade last year was about 197,000 people. It's grown from just a few folks walking downtown to a major civic event with both gay, straight, family, kids, everyone coming out to see the great diversity of our community.

CAVANAUGH: That's what I was going to say. There are some people who still think you have to be gay to go to the festival. That's not really the case, is it?

CRENSHAW: No, we had a study in 2009 from UCSD which showed that about 30% of our guests are straight, and we know there's children, a lot of families, something for everyone. We have carnival rides this year, great entertainment. So it's a great weekend, it's a great time to come out and support diversity. The rainbow flag has been used by Jesse Jackson to support equality and equal rights. It represents all of our diversity. There's an LGBT person in every family, church, religion, and background.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us if you would about the spirit of Stonewall rally.

CRENSHAW: The pride movement has its origins with the Stonewall riots in New York City which celebrated its anniversary last month. That was a protest against police brutality in New York against the gay community. Young activists saying enough and enough. So we start the festival every year with the rally to remember that we're going to have a lot of great fun, but this is about a movement. So the Stonewall riots in New York City, we start with that rally. We start with a great speaker EClarence Jones, who was a speech writer for doctor king.

CAVANAUGH: And Sean, do you think that most of the people who want to be in the parade wearing military uniform, do you think they got it cleared despite the initial confusion that basically if you get the okay from your commanding officer, you're okay?

SALLA: Well, it's funny. On my way over here, because we beat into the floor the fact from the beginning that you have to get command approval. And I just got another e-mail saying so do I need command approval?


SALLA: But yes. I encourage service members who review the policy for themselves. But I can tell you the policy says you must be have command approval. That's the end of the discussion. I can't speak for all, but I think the majority of participants now get it. But originally, there was a lot of questions. It's still a touchy thing.

CAVANAUGH: And this year, there is absolutely no ramifications for someone who is active duty military who doesn't want to wear their uniform or being outed or spotted in any way because Don't Ask, Don't Tell is history?

SALLA: Yes, that's how it should be. I can tell you that dealing with some of these people who are putting in their applications to wear their uniform, it's been rough. But legally, no ramifications. Personally? I don't know. People are people and sometimes they just like to ruin or ostracise somebody. But hopefully they've moved past that.

CAVANAUGH: And give us the basic, Dwayne. Where and when does the festival take place? Is there a cost?

CRENSHAW: The pride Stonewall rally kicks off tomorrow evening at 6:00 PM on the corner of university avenue and normal street. The parade is Saturday morning at 11:00 AM on university avenue into Balboa Park where the festival is both Saturday and Sunday. It is $20.01 day, $30.02 days. That is a great price for the carnival rides, the entertainment lineup that you'll see. It's in Balboa Park between Laurel street and Marston point Saturday from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Great time for family and friends to come out and celebrate.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you both very much.

SALLA: Thank you very much.

CRENSHAW: Thank you.