This year, San Francisco’s Pride celebration fell on the absolute hottest fucking day of the year. Despite the sweltering heat, it was nice to be able to wear my Mickey Mouse tank top with a pair of running shorts without being called a "fag" for once. A loud, feverish energy dominated the Castro and Civic Center, calling all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and straight residents, along with thousands of out-of-towners into the streets to remind the world what this city is all about: tolerance, community, compassion, and queers. However, in recent weeks, the talk surrounding Pride has largely centered around the military. Bradley Manning was named honorary grand marshal of the parade, then quickly relieved of his duties; the Defence Of Marriage Act was struck down; and for the first time since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the National Guard made plans to set up a recruitment booth in the heart of Pride.
Historically, the military has left as much of a stain on LGBTQ rights as any other oppressive majority in America (I’m looking at us, white males). But in the past two years, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the military's awareness of the LGBTQ community, amid an understandable animosity. Could they recruit from the very same group they’ve spent generations undermining? I wanted to find out, so I enlisted the help of my friend Misha Aziz, a particularly knowledgeable LGBTQ guy, to come to the parade with me and investigate.
We didn’t have to go far to find the scene. As usual, Dolores Park’s southern slopes, known locally as Gay Beach, were swarming with partygoers dressed for a naked, gay(er) Coachella. After overpaying for a bland mayo-less turkey sandwich and avoiding the mass gyration brought on by another Rihanna song, we ran into a guy who reminded me of Thor, if Thor wore cut-off jean shorts, a cowboy hat, and carried a sign reading, “BRADLEY MANNING – HERO – ROLE MODEL – GRAND MARSHAL.” He introduced himself as Starchild, a self-proclaimed “libertarian activist/political dissident."
VICE: I take it you’re here about Bradley Manning.
Starchild: Well, he’s a hero. He exposed things that the government shouldn’t be trying to keep a secret. I mean Obama promised us the most transparent administration in history, and he’s delivered just the opposite. I wanted to come and promote him. He’s the people’s grand marshal.
What role do you feel military politics should have at Pride?
Y’know, as time goes on I've become less and less in favour of having any sort of military at all. At this point I feel like the biggest threat to my personal well-being – as well as the well-being of everybody in the United States – is the US government.
Starchild went on to talk about border control being a form of genocide and gave me a “Support Bradley Manning” sticker. Meanwhile, a friend of Misha's named Jeremy approached us. He said he had heard of me, but I'm pretty sure he was on something psychedelic so I didn't let it go to my head. I asked Jeremy what he thought about the military's newfound interest in Pride.
Jeremy: I think it’s hideous, but it’s no surprise. I mean, I think it’s representative of the ways in which the gay community, now having experienced greater acceptance in the mainstream, is becoming the oppressive apparatus and structure that once oppressed them.
In what way are gay people becoming the oppressors?
I’m just really cynical about gays serving in the military. It's like, OK, great, now your community has equal rights to kill brown people as everyone else.
What about the meaning behind the military’s attempts to include the community? Is that irrelevant?
That’s typical pink-washing. Trying to downplay the military’s negative action by saying they’re treating the gay community well. It’s like when Israel says “look at how the Palestinians treat their gays,” you have the face of imperialism putting forth an alleged LGBT friendliness as a cover for the hideousness and vitriol and violence and everything they stand for.
Do you think that opinion is representative of the majority of the LGBTQ community?
I don’t know… I hope so.
At that, Jeremy apologised and told us he had to go find “something," and so we continued our search for the National Guard.
The Civic Center turned out to be the real party scene: groups of chicks in fluorescent fairy raver shit, old naked men doing the helicockter, and drag queens ad nauseam dancing to Top 40 hits blaring from an endless number of T-shirt and cell phone booths. After wandering around for a good half hour looking for the recruiters, I was dehydrated, tired, horny, and had somehow lost Misha in the sea of asses and penises.
I texted Misha, “Fuck this. I’ll come back tomorrow,” and went off in search of a Walgreens. Just then the heavens opened up and dropped in front of me a big, butch, grizzled Marine vet named Michelangelo, and his adorable, limping English Pointer, Elvis.
VICE: What do you think about the National Guard setting up a recruiting station at Pride?
Michelangelo: They finally got somebody out here, huh? I’m bisexual, man. I was in the Marine Corps for eight years and I didn’t say nothing there. I wanted to be a Marine. I mean they were pressured by the government and the people to change the programme just like the Boy Scouts. And everybody, sooner or later, is gonna have to give in.
Is that a bad thing?
I think this is just a way to find out if you are gay, and they’ll just put you in a place where they want to put you. I think we were better off with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That way nobody knows, and you don’t get bothered. Most guys who go into the Marine Corps are macho guys, and I think it’ll be like that for a long time. When I was a kid me and my brother used to go out into the Castro district and harass the gay men. But back then I couldn’t understand why I was the way I was… hell, back then I was a pretty good looking guy. Women loved my ass! But you know, I also liked being with men and didn’t understand why until I got older. I’m what they’d call a butch gay male, I guess. Just like Caesar Romero.
As I left Michelangelo and gave Elvis a pat, fortune smiled on me again: Misha texted me to say he had found the booth.
The booth was in front of the Civic Center main stage, and looked fairly crowded. At least eight uniformed soldiers were milling around, getting their pictures taken with the crowd and shaking hands with just about everybody. A reporter with a big fuzzy microphone emasculated me next to my little plastic recorder. I asked a gay couple leaving the tent if they had been in the service, and if they thought the recruitment was a good idea. I was met with a very derisive, “Yes, and of course,” before a recruiter came up and introduced himself. I spoke with Captain William L. Martin of the California National Guard, one of their PR Officers.
VICE: What has the response to your presence here at Pride been like so far?
Martin: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. To be honest, there were some apprehensions at first – what it would be like pursuing this demographic – but what has been surprising is the overwhelming amount of leads we’ve been able to secure. If we set up a booth at a NASCAR event, or say a Raiders football game, we might get one or two who legitimately want to become National Guardsmen. We’re really out there to promote our brand. Here, we’ve already gotten 20.
Yeah, we did this in LA too and got 30 to 40. That’s probably because it’s a new demographic, but we’re happy.
Barring and booting homosexuals from the armed forces goes back to the Continental Army, with Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin being “tried for attempting to commit sodomy” in March 1778. What kind of message are you trying to promote by reversing your position after 233 years?
What we’re trying to pursue is getting a message out there that we’re not only following the rules, but we’re actually embracing diversity, not just with sexual orientation, but across the board.
Have recruiting tactics changed at all to target the LGBT community?
Not so much, no. We want people to realise that those particular demographics are not going to hold them back if they have the skill and desire to serve. We welcome them, both in the National Guard and the military as a whole.
Has there been any backlash?
In Los Angeles, I didn’t hear one negative response the whole time. Here, I know the PFC Bradley Manning supporters swung by our booth, but they were very cordial. I mean the fact that they’re even here, that they’re able to openly talk about something that’s controversial, is really a testimony to what we do. So we’re OK with that.
A big controversy since the repeal of DADT is that transgendered members of the LGBTQ community still cannot serve. Do you think that will ever change?
That one’s in flux, and it's really up to the government. From what I understand, they’re basically wrestling with that one, because it’s a medical issue and it is a biological issue. We’re just waiting on word from up top.
With part of the Defence of Marriage Act being very recently ruled unconstitutional, allowing same sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as all other married couples, are there plans to start rolling that out in the military?
Yes, we’ve already received guidance that in the next several weeks we’ll receive same sex benefits. In fact, if a same sex spouse wants to be buried in Arlington, or other military cemeteries, they’ll have the right to do so.
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