With "don't ask, don't tell" slated for decommission come September 20, a group of active-duty U.S. service members stationed in Europe celebrated in advance over the weekend by marching in a German gay pride festival parade.
On Saturday, 13 service members, joined by some civilian supporters, participated in the CSD Mannheim 2011 parade, according to OutServe Germany chapter co-leader Capt. Carlos Coronado, who is stationed at Buechel Air Base. Their presence -- perhaps the first American active-duty contingent to march in an overseas pride parade -- follows participation by a group of about 350 active-duty and veteran service members in the San Diego pride parade last month.
"We watched that very closely," Coronado told The Advocate of the San Diego event. "One of our girls saw her girlfriend participate in the pride march, so we were really excited about it and wanted to see if we could do it here as well."
After the San Diego parade, held just days before President Barack Obama certified DADT repeal, Coronado said that he and fellow service members sought to participate in several European pride festivals, including the recent Amsterdam pride parade, which included an official entry of Dutch gay service members for the first time.
But some of the parades were already filled to capacity when Coronado's group had submitted requests. Mannheim, however, was an instant fit, he said. Organizers even waived the entrance fee. "They were ecstatic to have us included," he said.
Coronado was joined by colleagues from Ramstein Air Base and Spangdahlem Air Base, among others. The group did not march in uniform, but wore T-shirts representing their OutServe chapter group.
Though some gay service member advocacy groups have emphasized that DADT remains the law of the land until September 20, a celebratory atmosphere -- if a cautious one -- is emerging, with countdowns to the official end of repeal featured on websites and parties planned from Seattle to Washington, D.C.
"I think people are not as afraid anymore, and that's the reason why we did this," Coronado said.
Coronado said the group was well-received along the parade route, with chants of "USA! USA!" as well as words of encouragement and congratulations from a recent Navy retiree and his boyfriend who attended the festivities.