Why the military should be at SF Pride

  • by Matthew Reece
  • Wednesday June 18, 2014
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To every LGBT veteran; to every LGBT soldier, airman, sailor, and marine currently serving; to every member of the LGBT community who fought for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"; to the dozens of people who welcomed the California National Guard and the California State Military Reserve to San Francisco Pride last year; to those who tearfully proclaimed that they never thought they would see the day when the U.S. military would participate in a Pride event: Please know that the California National Guard and the California State Military Reserve will be absent from SF Pride this year, not by choice, but by decree.

As a member of the LGBT community and an advocate for equality, I have fought for years against prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination. That is why it is so disappointing that these same words can be used to describe the anti-military bias that resulted in the decision to ban the armed forces from participating in San Francisco Pride 2014. Citing the "ongoing institutional practices of discrimination against transgender people," the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board of directors used a broad brush of ignorance and intolerance to disenfranchise millions of LGBT veterans who have served honorably and heroically in the U.S. military.

It's important to remember that those who serve in uniform don't make the laws that govern the armed forces, their civilian leaders do. Soldiers follow orders. Sometimes they follow orders with which they don't personally agree. The bottom line is that since the birth of this country, members of the LGBT community have stepped forward to serve regardless of their personal opinions of the laws and regulations governing the military. We took an oath. The oath is clear. It is the same oath if you are gay, straight, or other. That is something that everyone should respect and support.

The California Military Department (a state agency that includes the California National Guard and the California State Military Reserve) celebrated the repeal of DADT by setting out to lead the nation in outreach to the LGBT community. Because California is looked at by the rest of the country as a leader on issues of social change, the California Military Department was determined to lead the nation in the integration of LGBT men and women into its ranks.

The California National Guard was the first in the nation to reinstate a soldier who had been discharged under DADT. The California National Guard was the first military organization to participate in a Pride event when in 2013 the adjutant general of the California National Guard and a dozen openly gay soldiers traveled the Los Angeles Pride parade route with gay then-Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles). The California State Military Reserve, a state military organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense, will be the first military organization in the nation to recruit an openly transgender soldier, Captain Sage Fox. This historic event will demonstrate that transgender men and women can successfully serve in a military unit, something already done in 13 of our allied nations.

The leaders of the California Military Department understand that our force is better when the ranks reflect the diversity of our state. Participating in Pride events, as part of a larger effort to integrate LGBT men and women, sends a strong message to members of our organization, both gay and straight, that the California Military Department supports diversity and does not tolerate discrimination. The department must continue attending events like SF Pride to maintain an organizational climate that gives LGBT men and women the confidence to serve without compromising who we are, and gives us the confidence to know that we have the same chance to succeed as our peers.

Supporting the military's efforts to advance diversity and equality following the repeal of DADT is an important responsibility of the LGBT community. As an LGBT advocate, I recognize that the policy banning transgender men and women from serving openly is one of the final legacies of a military that has sometimes struggled with integration and acceptance. But let us not forget that our military has also been at the forefront of social change, leading the way for racial and cultural integration across the nation.

If you are visiting San Francisco for this year's event, we regret that we will not be able to celebrate with you in person, but we hope to see you at the many other Pride celebrations throughout the state that have welcomed our participation. If you are a San Franciscan, we will be at the Castro Street Fair October 5 and would love to meet you.

Happy Pride!


Staff Sergeant Matthew Reece is a recruiter in the California State Military Reserve, and coordinates the LGBT outreach efforts of the organization.