CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) - About 200 active-duty troops participated in last year's San Diego gay pride parade, but they wore T-shirts with their branch's name, not military dress.
This year for the first time ever, U.S. service members will be able to march in a gay pride event decked out in uniform.
In a memorandum sent to all its branches, the Defense Department said it was making the allowance for the San Diego parade on Saturday — even though its policy generally bars troops from marching in uniform in parades.
The Defense Department said it did so because organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniform and the event was getting national attention.
Former sailor Sean Sala, who organized the military's participation in the parade, said he wanted service members to wear their official uniform this year to show there is no longer anything to hide.
"My soul is on fire," he said after hearing the news Thursday. "They don't fight in T-shirts. They fight in uniforms. This is about showing who they are."
Thursday's move came only weeks after the Pentagon joined the rest of the U.S. government for the first time in marking June as gay pride month and made an official salute to gay and lesbian service members.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed in a video message to remove as many barriers as possible to making the military a model of equal opportunity and said gays and lesbians can be proud in uniform with the repeal last year of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law.
Last year, San Diego's gay pride parade had the nation's largest contingency of active-duty troops participate before the military lifted its ban on openly gay service members.
The Pentagon said the allowance is only for this year's parade in San Diego and does not extend beyond that. Military personnel wearing civilian clothes do not need permission to march in any parades.
The Defense Department policy says personnel cannot march in parades in uniform unless they receive approval from their commanding officers or other Pentagon-approved authorities.
Sala believes there will be no going back after Saturday. He said he has reached his dream in seeing the U.S. military sanction participation in a gay pride parade, as the armed forces have done in Canada and Great Britain.
Uniformed soldiers in those countries have marched down the streets of Toronto and London next to scantily clad men, drag queens and civil rights activists.
"I think across the country we will start seeing active-duty members in uniform march in pride parades," Sala said.
San Diego Pride Executive Director Dwayne Crenshaw called it an historic moment.
"San Diego Pride is honored to have the privilege of celebrating our country and our service members with dignity and respect," he said. "The fight for equality is not over, and it is not easy, but this is a giant leap in the right direction."
Before Thursday, several service members wanting to participate in San Diego's parade were told they could not do so in uniform. Others were granted permission by their commanding officers.
"I think many people thought after 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was gone, discriminatory things would be eradicated," Sala said. "But now these parades have become a very sticky subject as far as commanders using their own discretion because they are showing either a bias toward a pride parade, or the right view, which this is about recognizing who people are."
Before the repeal, gay troops could serve but could be discharged if they revealed their sexual orientation. At the same time, a commanding officer was prohibited from asking a service member whether he or she was gay.
More than 300 service members have signed up to participate this year in the San Diego parade. It was unclear how many will wear their uniform.
The Defense Department said in its message to the service members that they should adhere to policy regarding behavior while wearing their uniforms.
Service members in uniform cannot appear to endorse or selectively benefit groups or individuals, provide a platform for a political message, or appear to be commercially sponsored. They also must ensure their presence in uniform is not intended to increase sales and business traffic.
Air Force Officer Joanna Gasca, 47, was among those who risked marching last year in a T-shirt. Her commanding officer had given her permission to do so this year before Thursday's memorandum was issued.
"It was absolutely thrilling last year to walk down the street," the Air Force recruiter said. "But this year — to be able to march in uniform — wow! I'm speechless."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Police said a man barricaded himself inside of a home on Genessee Avenue early Sunday morning for more than two hours after threatening to commit suicide.
Detectives believe a three-year-old boy may have shot himself at a home in Indianapolis Saturday night. Police said the shooting appears to have been accidental.
There will be several holiday-themed events this weekend in the Fort Wayne area, including Christmas displays, children’s parties, visits from Santa Claus, and more.
A man is in critical condition after a stabbing early Sunday morning in Bluebird Court, off of St. Joe Road.
The 122nd Fighter Wing hosted the annual Airman of the Year Awards on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the achievements of members of the 122nd.
Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Fort Wayne area veterans and their families met for a service at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to remember those who lost their lives back on December 7, 1941.
A doctor who performs abortions in Fort Wayne, Gary and South Bend has been asked to appear before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.
Each year, students at Taylor University attend a men's basketball game and are completely silent until the Trojans score their 10th point of the game. The game is known as "Silent Night."
Governor Mike Pence is directing flags at Indiana state facilities be flown at half-staff on Saturday, Dec. 7 in honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
A national campaign wants the NFL's Washington Redskins to change its name to not be offensive to Native Americans, and it could effect teams across the country.
The Lilly Endowment Inc. has given more than $62 million to 39 Indiana colleges and universities to increase employment opportunities for college graduates. receive
A two-car crash tied up traffic for a short time on Illinois Road at the entrance to Jefferson Pointe.
It's been a year since FBI agents and police raided several homes in Fort Wayne. The center of the investigation was Michael Fabini's home.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not toxic to humans or pets. Some mild side effects are possible if they are eaten.
A Fort Wayne man had the opportunity to have lunch with Nelson Mandela 20 years ago. He says the experience is something he has carried with him throughout the years.