US service members to march in gay pride parade

Gay pride parade

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 to all its branches, the department said it was making the allowance for San Diego's Gay Pride Parade on Saturday even though its policy generally bars troops from marching in uniform in parades.

The Defense Department said it did so because organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniform and the event was getting national attention.

The move came only weeks after the Pentagon joined the rest of the U.S. government for the first time in marking June as gay pride month and made an official salute to gay and lesbian service members.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed in a video message to remove as many barriers as possible to making the military a model of equal opportunity and said gays and lesbians can be proud in uniform with the repeal last year of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' law.

Last year, San Diego's Gay Pride Parade had the nation's largest contingency of active-duty troops participate before the military lifted its ban on openly gay service members. About 200 service members last year wore T-shirts with their branch's name.

Former sailor Sean Sala, who organized the military's participation in the parade, said he wanted service members to wear their official uniform this year to show there is no longer anything to hide.

"My soul is on fire,'' he said after hearing the news Thursday. "They don't fight in T-shirts. They fight in uniforms. This is about showing who they are.''

The Pentagon said the allowance is only for this year's parade in San Diego and does not extend beyond that. Military personnel wearing civilian clothes do not need permission to march in any parades.

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