SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former Navy operations specialist is organizing what is believed to be the first military contingent of hundreds of active-duty troops and veterans to lead a gay pride parade Saturday, a day after an appeals court temporarily reinstated a policy against openly gay people serving in the military.
Sean Sala, who finished his service last month, is heading up the participation of the national Servicemembers Legal Defense Network — representing gay and lesbian active-duty military personnel — in the parade.
The group said they told Sala they are warning members that it is still a risk to come out as long as "don't ask, don't tell" is on the books.
"We communicated to him that anyone who participates is assuming a certain level of risk," spokesman Zeke Stokes said. "We are looking forward to a time when LGBT service members can participate in these kinds of actions without any risk."
Sala said it's time for the gay and lesbian community to stop hiding in fear.
"This is not in any way a violation of military policy and it's time for the country to move on — plain and simple," he said.
Cpl. Jaime Rincon, 21, a Camp Pendleton Marine who plans to participate, said he is grateful Sala gave him the opportunity to march as a military member.
"Finally someone is stepping up to the plate, someone has said: 'We're done hiding. Let's do something about this. Let's show everybody we're proud of who we are and we're proud of our branches of service,'" he said.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a July 6 ruling, ordered a halt to enforcing the 17-year ban. But late Friday the court temporarily reinstated it, while prohibiting any investigation, penalties or discharges under the rule.
Marine Corps officials said service members who are not in uniform are within their rights to participate in a gay pride parade.
But Stokes said going public now could be used against military personnel later if the military starts enforcing the policy again. The Department of Justice filed an emergency motion Thursday asking the court to reconsider its order, saying ending the ban now would pre-empt the "orderly process" for rolling back the 17-year-old policy as outlined in the law passed and signed by the president in December. Pentagon officials have said they expect the ban to be officially lifted soon.
Sala said the parade group will be made up of gay and heterosexual service members in a show of unity.
The troops and veterans will wear T-shirts showing their branch of service. They will walk with two horses — one draped in an American flag and the other with the rainbow-colored Pride flag — to honor service members and those who have died for equality, Sala said.
Some will accompany a half-ton military vehicle as audio equipment belts out "Taps" and military fight songs to the expected crowd of thousands. They also will hold a 30-foot American flag and a banner with the military crest on it.
Gay Pride marches nationwide have been focusing on the repeal of the military's ban but this will be the first with active-duty troops participating as an identifiable group, gay rights activists say.