In her 1969 poem "The Will to Change," the late lesbian poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "We're living through a time/that needs to be lived through us." At that time, protests against the Vietnam War exploded onto the streets and young civil rights activists turned the fight for social justice into "liberation" movements, including a little riot at the Stonewall Inn where gays, drag queens and transgender patrons got sick and tired of being hassled by the NYPD and fought back. Very few thought of fighting to get into the then-detested military or fighting to participate in the patriarchal institution of marriage.
But today as the world awaits a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality, a new L.A. Times poll shows that nearly six in ten Californians believe same-sex marriage should be legal, and the ban against open service in the military has been lifted, except for transgender individuals -- though that may also change shortly, given the recent revelation by former Navy Seal Kristin Beck.
The year after Stonewall, Gay Liberation activists in New York City and Los Angeles (led by Rev. Troy Perry and Morris Kight) staged the first Pride Parade to commemorate and celebrate their new feeling of freedom. Forty-four years later, in June 2011, gays in the military felt they were knocking on freedom's door as L.A. Pride honored them as Community Grand Marshalls in advance of the repeal of DADT, and the following year, active duty servicemembers and vets marched in uniform in the San Diego and L.A. Pride parades.
This year, Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard joined Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez -- the first openly gay person elected Speaker -- in the CSW/L.A. Pride Parade. The contingent of about 10 people, half gay, half straight -- included Col. Vito Imbasciani, the openly gay state surgeon with the California Army National Guard.
"This marks the first time a U.S. National Guard force has directly outreached to the LGBT community at Pride," a press release from the Speaker's Office states. The Guard also had its first-ever recruiting booth at the Pride Festival following the parade.
"The overwhelmingly positive response to the California National Guard from Pride participants today was matched only by the respect and enthusiasm the Guard showed toward our community," Pérez said. "Today makes it absolutely clear the Guard is committed to including and reflecting all the people they serve."
"We are a performance-based force, and one's sexual orientation shouldn't affect their ability to serve and excel," Baldwin said. "Duty to one's state and nation -- not sexual orientation -- is the defining trait of our soldiers and airmen."
Pérez has worked closely with the California National Guard, including helping launch the Cal Guard's Work for Warriors Program to find jobs, in addition to helping California veterans statewide obtain the services they need and the benefits they have earned, according to the release.
Aside from those who marched in the parade, the Guard had 25 recruiters at a booth at the festival. According to Capt. William L. Martin, the Guard's Public Affairs Officer, the recruiters "got a lot more leads than at football games or NASCAR. The response was very encouraging."
The recruitment effort is intended to demonstrate to the troops and to the public that the Guard "embraces diversity. We want people to realize that if they can perform, they can serve."
Martin also noted to Frontiers that the Guard is still active in war zones and hot spots including Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Horn of Africa. And the Guard is still under federal authority so the Defense of Marriage Act applies, though it may be overturned by the Supreme Court soon. Domestically, the Guard helps fight wild fires and when called upon by the governor to help peace or help in other emergencies such as after an earthquake.
If you are interested in joining the California National Guard, you can call 1-800-Go-Guard or go to nationalguard.com where you can fill out an application and find your nearest recruiter.
Parade photos courtesy the Speaker's office; the photo of Dr./Col Imbasciani and CSW/LA Pride President Rodney Scott was taken by Karen Ocamb.