Aug. 1 2012 08:38 AM

Confused media reports and confusing directives confound flap over marching service members

Photo courtesy of Matthew Bietz/Flickr

Based on media reporting of the controversy surrounding the decision by the U.S. Department of Defense allowing uniformed, active-duty military service members to march in San Diego’s Pride Parade two weeks ago, we had an editorial all ready to go that reluctantly and rather gently criticized the DoD for selectively following its own rules. We loved that men and women in uniform proudly marched on July 21, but we stated that President Barack Obama appeared to be pandering to LGBT voters and campaign donors and, in the process, leaving himself open to valid criticism from grade-A doofuses like U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, the Republican from Oklahoma.

Cursory reading of press accounts of the flap suggests that active-duty service members may not march in uniform in political parades, and we believe that San Diego Pride is political. Civil rights is a political issue, and with the LGBT community on the front lines in battles over marriage equality and the right to serve in the military, LGBT-pride events are prime rallying venues. Sad, but true.

It’s sad because pride parades shouldn’t have to be political rallies. In fact, despite the fun energy they generate and the economic benefit they provide to the community, it’s too bad pride events have to exist at all.

But they do exist, and they’re vital—from the lofty political statements right down to the people dancing and parading around in their skivvies. The events are big, loud, in-your-face declarations of freedom and power: We’re gay. We’re not going to stop being gay. We’re not going to hide being gay. And some of us are going to continue to dance around in our undies for at least one weekend every year until we get all the same rights as straight people and we don’t have to worry about getting the crap beat out of us after we leave the bars at night.

More than in any other segment of society, following rules is crucial in the military. Rules are the very foundation for military success; without them, the structure is weakened. This may seem a strange thing to read in an alternative weekly, but waiving a rule from the top of the military command because not doing so would lead to some political unpleasantness is a dangerous message to send down the chain.

But after we crafted that editorial, debate ensued in our office, and we took a closer look at the various complaint letters and DoD directives. The directives on what active service members can and can’t do while wearing the uniform aren’t easy to parse. Taken broadly, they essentially say that engaging in any kind of political demonstration while in uniform is not cool. But they seem to suggest that service members can march in ralies and demonstrations if they get approval in advance.

Local commanders have the authority to honor or deny such requests, but after San Diego Pride encouraged service members to march in uniform and the matter started drawing national media attention, local commanders sought guidance from the DoD. In response, the DoD issued a blanket approval for service members to march in uniform in the 2012 San Diego Pride Parade, “based on our current knowledge of the event and existing policies.”

Existing policies say that uniformed service members can march for a cause as long as it’s approved ahead of time. No rules were waived willy-nilly; there’s nothing here to get bent out of shape over. But, man, the military really should write rules that are easier to figure out.

Speaking of Pride, politics and doofuses, we can’t miss an opportunity to call out Johnathan Hale, publisher of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News and partner of San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio, for his ridiculous “Letter to the Community,” in which he whined about how DeMaio was booed during the Pride Parade.

“It’s just a shame that the boos and hisses in this year’s Parade didn’t come from homophobes, but came from some within our own community,” Hale wrote. “They chose to use their energy and talents to try to turn what was supposed to be a happy day of celebration and pride into one where people expressed anger, hate and mistruths. And they put politics before Pride.”

In other words: Gay people should hide their political views during major events so that Hale’s candidate/partner can appear to be more popular in the LGBT community than he really is.

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