LGBT Community Filled With Pride Ahead Of Weekend Celebration
July 11, 2013 1:11 p.m.
Fernando Lopez, Public Affairs Director San Diego LGBT Pride
First Lt. Garth Langley, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade
ST. JOHN: This weekend marks the 39th San Diego gay pride parade! In 2011, the first active military appeared in the parade. That was an act of courage pushing the river of change along. This year feels like another world with major civil rights breakthroughs for the gay community, and changes that many people would never have predicted could happen so fast! So we have Fernando Lopez, the director of the San Diego LGBT pride parade. And First Lt. Garth Langley.
LANGLEY: Good morning, thank you for having me.
ST. JOHN: And you are from Camp Pendleton?
ST. JOHN: So we have had the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the reversal of DOMA, and prop 8. Does this pride event take on new meaning as a result?
LANGLEY: Most definitely. The LGBT community is just ecstatic with how much things have changed, and the victories. The energy is kinetic in the community. You can just see people are happier in the streets, holding hands, expressing themselves, and we're hearing this is going to be the big evaluate and best celebration the city has ever seen!
ST. JOHN: What is the theme this year?
LANGLEY: The theme was voted on by the community, and it is the freedom to love and marry. So it was quite tortuous.
ST. JOHN: What will that show manifest?
LANGLEY: I'm sure the theme is going to resonate really well, and we expect people to have bridal gowns and people in tuxedos showing in the pride parade! But also honoring the people who are going to take the time to get married over the pride weekend as well as at the festival that goes for two days. There will be people who get married there. We have a 2-day festival that takes place at Marston Point, and there'll be a wedding place set up during the festival. And couples will be getting married there.
ST. JOHN: For the first time, you and other marines are able to participate in the parade in uniform, right?
LANGLEY: This is the second year that marines have been authorized to. Last year, a memorandum was released allowing a sweeping effort to get all service members aware. And this year, local commanders have made that decision.
ST. JOHN: So even though it came from the top, the local decision wasn't made until this year?
LANGLEY: That's correct. This year, local decisions were made. And with San Diego having one of the largest military communities, there's a large constituency of LGBT community members in the community.
ST. JOHN: Have they set any regulations?
LANGLEY: We have specific guidelines and regulations we're given. We're recommending they wear their dress blue delta uniform.
ST. JOHN: And how many people do you expect to come from Camp Pendleton?
LANGLEY: Right now, it's kind of hard to tell. I know the word is still getting out there, and that's definitely what we're here to do. To ensure it's not only a visible event, but that we're looking to increasing our support in the coming years.
ST. JOHN: There's no more legal legs to stand on for not letting you appear in the parade, are there?
LANGLEY: No, since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", we've made great strides. And we're proud of the diversity that San Diego brings to the Navy and the Marine Corps. And we'll be able to showcase that this weekend.
ST. JOHN: What's it like for gay service members to be open bullpen their sexual on-base? Certainly things have changed.
LANGLEY: Absolutely. For as much as has changed, there is always work to be done. But we have worked hard to incorporate not only training from the top down to the very lowest level, but also to really understand that gay service members are everywhere. We serve with one another at home, and while we're deployed. And the reality is that it's about visibility and ensuring that they are okay with being themselves and being out. And I think that's really what the focus of the military contingent is this year, to be able to showcase that pride.
ST. JOHN: Fernando, is there a special place in this pride for the marines and sailors?
LOPEZ: Sure! This will be the third year that we have proactively have an active military contingent, 2011 being the first. 2012 being the first that we had approval to wear uniforms. And this year, we have an active military contingent. And we'll see how many register this year. And they'll be right up at the front of the parade. We get the best reaction from the crowd.
ST. JOHN: Do you really! San Diego has been a major force in the push to make it okay in the military and to make it something you could just be open about in the parade.
LOPEZ: I think like what Garth was saying is that San Diego has this huge military community, and we also have a very large LGBT community, and there's a nexus there. And that is what created the impetus to respect our LGBT community in the same way police and firefighters walk in their parade. In 2011 we realized it was time to honor our military service members in the same way.
ST. JOHN: Right. There must be a lot of other constituencies that are now coming forward into the light as a result of what has just happened. And the Supreme Court decisions. Are you finding there are many couples where one of the couples might have been threatened being deported?
LOPEZ: We've heard lots of stories where deportation was a possibility because of immigration. And now those couples don't have to worry about being torn apart. And I think that's a really important idea that gets overlooked sometimes. That's a reality for LGBT couples, and one that now, thankfully, is solved.
ST. JOHN: And being on the border here, as we have a big mimill stare community, we also have can a big community who are immigrants and who love each other, and for whom this has been a real breakthrough.
LOPEZ: Yes. We think of love and marriage and the bridal gowns and the celebration with family. And those things are all important. And we want those things too. But there's also 1,138 rights that we don't have access to. 412 state states. And all of those impact lives in real ways. Like the ability to pick your children up from school at the end of a day. Those things are important to us.
ST. JOHN: And is the LGBT community surprised at how fast things have changed?
LOPEZ: I don't know that we're surprised. I feel like the momentum has really been building over the last several years. In the last decade or so, I've seen the change so quickly, and it's -- watching it expand, as more and more people come out, it gives others the courage toldo so, and it breaks down those barriers so quickly. I don't know if we're surprised, but we definitely feel like it's time!
ST. JOHN: Right. I want to ask you whether at the ground level in Camp Pendleton the experience has really changed. Are there any areas where you still feel like you have to be careful who you're open with?
LANGLEY: I think as FDR said, the only fear we have is fear itself. And for a lot of service members, just coming out is that fear. And after you realize that issue life really is not different. Service to your country and what you do on a day-to-day basis is the same, it's very easy to get along with everyone in the military. And personally, I've had a very positive experience in coming out. Last year on the gay pride parade, I came out to my command officially, and it's been an interesting experience, I particular my pattern to the Marine Corps ball. People understand that this is around you everywhere you look, and it's not just here at home. We deploy all over the world with one another, and there's no reason to hide it.
ST. JOHN: Do you still feel like you're in the vanguard here?
LANGLEY: I think with the recent policy changes there's so much to be proud of, and to stand on the shoulders of all of the people that really fought for these issues, even when they had no voice, we do have a voice now. And it's very important for those people that currently are thinking about the decision to come out and serve on active duty to understand that these things are important to their future, and they have to be true to themselves. But the only person that can make those decisions is themself. And the more visibility we, have, will showcase that capability, and we look at it as an important just to be proud about being -- serving our country.
ST. JOHN: If there is anybody on base who still had questions in their mind about coming out or not, what kind. Advice do you give them? There may still be good reasons to not come out.
LANGLEY: Absolutely. I think you look across the board, and everybody has personal challenges.
Different jobs require certain skill sets. But we're talking about human issues. We're not talking about political issues. We're talking about people being able to be comfortable with themselves so they can membership the person they love, safely within the confines of also serving in the military and their nation, and realizing that the support groups are out there just as they are for the heterosexual groups.
ST. JOHN: Are there some skill sets and divisions where it might be a more difficult decision?
LANGLEY: No matter where you look, there's always going to be an uphill battle for certain individuals. Being a marine is an inherently dangerous job. And being in the military, we have to go anywhere in the world on a moment's notice. It's important that people are true to themselves so they can be successful.
ST. JOHN: I notice Fernando that tonight at 7:00pm there's going to be a military contingent, 21 years and older, who are welcome to attend an information session at the Burro street bar and grill.
LOPEZ: It's an opportunity for service members who are going to be participating in the military contingent to have an opportunity to meet one another, go over what time check-in is and boring logistical things. But everyone gets a chance to mix and mingle and have a cocktail.
[ LAUGHTER ]
ST. JOHN: Tell us what's going on.
LOPEZ: We kick off tomorrow at 6:00 with the spirit of Stonewall rally. A lot of people don't remember is that the reason we have pride is because of the Stonewall riots. We honor that every year with the spirit of Stonewall rally. Tomorrow at 6:00 at the pride flag in Hillcrest. George Takei will be the speaker there. And we'll have a community speaker from the ACLU. And others will be speaking as well. Then it goes into the pride of Hillcrest block party, we take over the streets and have a big block party tomorrow night. Then we have a 2-day festival at Balboa Park with eight different stages. A leather garden, a children's zone, country music, hip hop, Latin stage, comedy. And latoya Jackson will be this. It's going to be a great weekend!
ST. JOHN: My goodness! So Garth, I just wanted to -- I notice you have a lot of materials on the table here. And this is about celebration, but it's also about a very serious transition. Do you have anything more you'd like to reflect?
LANGLEY: Absolutely. I think obviously the materials that we have, it's just information do provide to those who are serving here in the San Diego region. To give them the right amount of information so they know this is authorized! This is okay. There is no backlash for participating in an event like San Diego gay pride parade. And that's very important for a service member. We have a unique role in serving our country. And that's not what this is about. They can just participate in respecting their nation, and by the way, they happen to be LGBT. The reality is that that stigma is only in their head. And will to overcome that, they just need to be true to themselves. And that's one of the accomplishments in the last couple years, especially this year by just having the presence of marines, sailors, officers who enlisted marching down the streets of San Diego.
ST. JOHN: Well, that's what we're all trying to do, become who we really are! That'll be a wonderful celebration of that for the whole community this weekend.