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What Makes San Diego Pride Unique? Hint: Uniforms

SAN DIEGO MILITARY

The LGBT celebration in "America's Finest City" is an interesting amalgam of liberal and conservative values.

With last weekend's San Diego LGBT Pride now logged into the archives of history, some of the event's key figures from the past, present, and possibly its future are weighing in on what made 2017's last major American-city celebration of gender and sexual diversity unique.

"In 1974, when I and Jess Jessup, a Vietnam War veteran, and Tom Homann went down to the police station to get our permit, they refused our permit and said, 'there will never be a homosexual parade in San Diego,'" recalled Nicole Murray-Ramirez, San Diego LGBT Pride cofounder and honorary mayor of the Hillcrest gayborhood, during a pre-Pride launch party late last week.

Murray-Ramirez's remarks were part of an event at which he was representing San Diego's Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer. Ramirez presented several proclamations and a special Rainbow Key to the City award to Stoli Vodka's LGBT ambassador and manager Patrik Gallineaux.

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Above: Eddie Rey awards Patrik Gallineaux, LGBT ambassador and manager for Stoli Group, USA, the first-ever Rainbow Key to the City of San Diego.

"San Diego has been such an inspiration to me personally the last few years," Gallineaux said. "It's because of people like you in San Diego who have shown me that I can be a professional. I can be a leader. That's why I love this city."

In 2012, San Diego Pride's theme was "America's Pride." That title was a riff on this military 'burg's official motto: "America's Finest City." Yet it was also a manifestation of what has come to be the crucible of the Pride movement, writ large. Pride boards and LGBT communities everywhere are asking, "What now is the nature and what is the intent of Pride parades and festivals?"

"America's Pride" is best remembered for the controversial arrest of a man named Will X. Walters for the "crime" of wearing a G-string and a leather kilt to the event. Walters famously sued the city for violating his constitutional right to equal enforcement of the law. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that his case could go to trial, a federal jury in San Diego finally ruled against Walters late last year. Walters hanged himself shortly thereafter (full disclosure: This reporter managed Walters's media campaign during his lawsuit).

Ironically, this year, numerous men wore only jockstraps to San Diego Pride, apparently without incident. In fact, this reporter witnessed and photographed two men so attired even as San Diegopolice officers looked on, seemingly unfazed. It seems, with Walters's death, San Diego Pride and the San Diego Police Department have let go of potentially fatal prudishness about Pride attire.

According to this year's community grand marshal, Susan Jester, a longtime San Diego AIDS and LGBT activist who founded the local AIDS Walk, San Diego Pride has been the historic home of many firsts.

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Above: Susan Jester, community grand marshal San Diego Pride Parade, 2017

"[They include] the recent Harvey Milk Street-naming and the Pride Parade's historic, first-anywhere ... group of over 100 interfaith leaders as the lead group of the parade," Jester told The Advocate. "San Diego Pride is unique in that it is the only year-round [Pride organization that remains in] operation out of any of the major U.S. cities."

Jester says San Diego Pride is also very diverse. She enjoys "the incredible diversity of the participants and the contingents truly represents the entire fabric of our San Diego LGBT Community."

"This year I noticed so many families and children from every ethnicity on the planet," she said. "The military plays a huge role in our city. Their families and support systems are major influences in our culture and they clearly belong at the front of the parade."

Open Military Service: The Pride of San Diego Pride

Recognition of LGBT military service remains this city's strong suit during Pride season, according to many.

"I thought the military contingent may possibly be a onetime thing," said Sean Sala, a former San Diegan and U.S. Navy and Iraq War veteran. Sala led the successful effort several years ago to make San Diego Pride the nation's first LGBT parade to feature a large contingent of active-duty military service members in uniform.

"But now I have seen that it is an established tradition at San Diego Pride forever," Sala said. "To see the idea that we could not only change our country for the better, but to become a permanent staple -- words cannot express how I feel."

Yet we live in transitional times, when LGBT people are not oppressed wholesale by government-sanctioned discrimination -- at least not in San Diego -- but neither are we safe from oppression.

There was a lot talk among LGBT service members and veterans at Pride about the delay of open service and enlistment for transgender people in the military.

"We should be marching openly and proudly at San Diego Pride in 2018," said one transgender sailor who asked to be identified only by his first name, Josh. "Some of us are just out there even though it's technically not allowed, while others like me still know it's safer to be in the closet, so to speak."

(RELATED: Enlistment of Trans Troops Delayed Six Months)

Josh didn't march this year but was in a state of full-throated joy as a contingent of bright-white uniformed United States Navy sailors passed by.

The transition to open service by active-duty trans military service members was initiated by former President Barack Obama. However, it is being stymied by President Trump, who allowed a delay of the enrollment of new trans recruits. Many fear he'll reverse Obama's decision to allow trans service.

Retired Chief Navy Petty Officer Morgan Hurley, who is editor of Gay San Diego, believes all transgender service members will ultimately be able to serve openly. However, she won't be surprised if it takes another five years.

"While I didn't think it would happen overnight, back in 1992 when President Clinton chose to make gays in the military his first fight after taking office, I very much appreciated him opening the conversation," Hurley said. "I had just left active duty less than five years before, after having been investigated three times in a seven-year time frame for being gay.

"I knew all too well the scenario and the culture we were up against. He really thought he was helping, and believe it or not, 'don't ask, don't tell' did stop the witch hunts and recruiters' horrible questioning."

Hurley, who was inducted into the Benjamin F. Dillingham III LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor last year, never expected it would take 17 more years for things to change.

"The day President Obama signed the new law [repealing 'don't ask, don't tell] was an incredibly emotional day for me," Hurley said. "The culture still has to change a bit regarding trans service members, but I do believe it will happen completely within the next five years. There are a few additional things they need to work out, but the ball is already rolling, so have faith."

Sala -- who marched as an active-duty service member in his U.S. Navy uniform at 2011's San Diego Pride parade, a year before it was permitted -- sees himself in the young service members he paved the way for.

"We've seen it with the current administration that our complacency hurt us in the end," Sala, who like Morgan Hurley, is also an inductee of the national Dillingham LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor in San Diego.

But unlike Hurley, Sala said patience is not in order regarding trans service. Next year, he said, all openly serving transgender military members must feel comfortable about marching at San Diego Pride.

"Now is the time for all gay and transgender military members to link arms in unity," Sala said. "We have one life to live; we have one life to make an impact."

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