CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The Defense Department on Thursday announced it is allowing service members to march in uniform in a gay pride parade for the first time in U.S. history.
In a memorandum sent military-wide, the department said it was making an exception to its policy that generally bars troops from marching in uniform in parades unless individuals get approval from their commanders.
The Defense Department said it was making the exception for San Diego’s Gay Pride Parade that will take place Saturday because organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniform and the event was getting national attention.
The parade last year had the largest contingency of active-duty troops participate before the military lifted its ban on openly gay service members. Last year, participants wore T-shirts with their branch name.
The Pentagon said the exception is only for this year’s parade in San Diego and does not extend beyond that.
San Diego Pride Executive Director Dwayne Crenshaw called it an historic moment.
“San Diego Pride is honored to have the privilege of celebrating our country and our service members with dignity and respect,” he said. “The fight for equality is not over, and it is not easy, but this is a giant leap in the right direction.”
The exception came after several service members wanting to participate in the parade were told they could not do so in uniform. Others were granted permission by their commanding officers.
“I think many people thought after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was gone, discriminatory things would be eradicated,” said former sailor Sean Sala, who led the campaign to have troops in uniform in the parade. “But now these parades have become a very sticky subject as far as commanders using their own discretion because they are showing either a bias toward a pride parade, or the right view, which this is about recognizing who people are.”
Sala says more than 300 service members have signed up to participate this year. It was unclear how many will wear their uniform.
The Defense Department said in its message to the service members that they should adhere to policy regarding behavior while wearing their uniforms.
Service members in uniform cannot appear to endorse or selectively benefit groups or individuals, provide a platform for a political message, or appear to be commercially sponsored. They also must ensure their presence in uniform is not intended to increase sales and business traffic.