For the first time since the repeal of its ban on gay men and women serving openly, the U.S. military is sending recruiters to San Francisco’s gay pride celebration.
The organizers of the annual San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade expect to draw one million people to its festivities this year. Recruiters from the California National Guard, joined by openly gay soldiers, will be among them, setting up two booths to answer questions about life in uniform.
“At the end of the day, we’re a community-based organization, too,” Capt. Shannon Terry, public affairs officer for the California National Guard, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “So we need to look like our community.” Recruitment efforts also took place at the San Diego pride parade last year and Los Angeles’ celebrations earlier this year — which drew in crowds of 200,000 and 400,000 attendees respectively.
It’s been a time of momentous change for the gay community within the military, since the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Since then, integration efforts from the military have moved ahead full steam. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be speaking at an event on Tuesday to honor gay and lesbian service members, the first sitting defense secretary to attend a Pentagon Pride celebration. And with the retirement of Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, Eric Fanning became the acting civilian head of the branch and thus the highest-ranking openly LGBT person in the Department of Defense.
DADT’s repeal had already opened up a number of recruitment avenues that had remained closed to the military. With the repeal legislation’s passage in 2010, Harvard, Stanford and several other prominent universities lifted their previous ban on allowing branches of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) onto their campuses. CAP experts correctly predicted prior to the repeal that lifting the ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers would in no way hurt recruitment efforts, instead allowing for higher rates of retention within the armed services in areas the military most needs specialists.
Despite this, there are still several hurdles the LGBT community face in their service. The repeal of DADT still does not afford protection to transgender members of the military, an issue that advocates say continues to allow for discrimination against their community. Republican members of Congress are also doing everything in their power to limit the amount of protections afforded to LGBT servicemembers. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) recently introduced amendments to the Senate’s version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that ostensibly prevent punishment against those in the military who express their religious beliefs. In actuality, the measure would provide cover for gaybashing against troops under the guise of religious freedom.