Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
Marching, a basic part of the military lifestyle is one of the first commands a Coast Guardsman learns.
In June however, Coast Guardsmen across the nation marched for a different reason, Pride.
More than 150 Coast Guardsmen, family, and friends gathered in New York City to march in the NYC WorldPride Parade.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the unrest in New York in June of 1969 when patrons of Stonewall Inn protested the harassment and persecution that LGBT Americans routinely experienced. Stonewall is an event widely credited with the formation of gay rights organizations, and the movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQIA+) community.
To that end, the month of June is designated as LGBT Pride Month in communities across the nation.
Annually, activities are held that highlight the acts of courage of millions who sought and continue to seek equality of opportunity.
We asked Coast Guard members, family, and friends marching in the NYC WorldPride Parade why they march.
I march for the many negative comments that will be attached to this story on social media. I march for my shipmates who will read all the hate comments spewed toward them for no necessary reason. I want them to know they are loved and appreciated. They are valued.
In my many hours in the comms-watch office as a non-rate alerting the rescue boat crew of people in distress did the coxswain ever ask for the distressed person’s sexual orientation? In the countless news articles about Coast Guardsmen rescuing people in need does it ever state the rescued person’s sexual orientation? When rescuing people, members of the Coast Guard don’t ask about the missing person’s sexual orientation or care, we just want to help them. So why do we treat our shipmates in the LGBTQIA+ community differently?
I decided to walk this year to show my support for the LGBTQIA+ society and help spread awareness that our branch is inclusive and break down the stigma that the military does not support the community. I did research on the Coast Guard’s policies on inclusion and anti-harassment and was able to find two quotes that really stood out to me and inspired me to create a poster to share during the parade.
I marched to celebrate and share how I overcame challenges before and during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in my Coast Guard career. I enjoyed seeing the manifestation of ‘pride’ from the many Coast Guard members from around the country, gay or straight, walking with me in the only military contingent in the event.
As my now-husband and I were very active in the repeal of DADT, I have beamed with a similar sense of pride and achievement after forcefully arguing the merits of a DADT repeal with my senator’s staff, being in the Senate Chambers when the repeal was passed (with my senator’s vote), and when meeting with then-Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi as she signed documentation for it to go to President Obama. I also walked amongst roaring crowds with tears in my eyes during the Pride Parade in Washington, D.C., when military members were first allowed to march in such a celebration.
Our country and Coast Guard has come so far; I have celebrated that. We still have a ways to go; I champion that, too, by having marched in this event!
I marched because I wanted to honor the legacy of the queers who had to hide who they were during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The ones who lost their jobs because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
I marched for the trans members whose current jobs are in a precarious position due to the recent policy decision.
I marched because I wanted to give hope to the gay kid who is the only LGBT person at their duty station. I marched because LGBTQ+ people have been in the Coast Guard since its beginning and will continue to serve loudly and proudly.
The reason I wanted the Coast Guard represented at World Pride was because I wanted every LGBTQ+ person whether they are open or in the closet to know that they belong in this organization and that they have people who support them.
I opened the event up to the entire Coast Guard and not just Sector New York because I wanted this to be truly representative of our organization and the LGBTQ+ community.
As of right now my approximate count of people is 130 representing all rank/rates and a variety of units across the country. Throughout the planning process I experienced a lot of pushback from senior members who had “reservations” about this event. This pushback just showed me how much more work we have left to do, the culture and feelings about LGBTQ+ members didn’t change with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Those same feelings that allowed and encouraged DADT are unfortunately still prevalent throughout the organization and have real life consequences for LGBTQ+ members.
Although the planning process was extremely taxing and at times disheartening, I continued to press the issue and make waves because at the end of the day, my struggle, and our collective action via marching, will make it easier for the next queer person that comes along and wants to celebrate our community. It also shows those in positions of power, those who make the policies that affect each of us, that we are here, we matter, and our voices will be heard.
I’m marching to help empower the LGBTQ+ community in the Coast Guard and show my support for the individuals in said community. The Coast Guard is constantly evolving, growing, and changing, and I am supporting the service’s move towards becoming increasingly inclusive. On top of that, I believe that people should feel safe, accepted, and loved regardless of any trait or characteristic.
I am marching because love is love and who each of us love and how they identify or what they look like should not matter. I have felt nothing but positivity from the Coast Guard community here at the Academy with regard to my choices of who to love and one day I would like to see that for everyone around the world.
My wife Cmdr. Gale Young-McLear, retired, and I are marching to foster unity and learn from the tireless work of countless freedom fighters within the LGBTQIA+ community who continue to be marginalized.
We march because we need solidarity around achieving full equality.
We march to honor our courageous heroes of the past and present.
I recently spearheaded efforts to create USCG Spectrum, a brand new Affinity Group for LGBTQIA+ Coast Guard people and their families. The work of the Affinity Group will help provide affirming spaces, support, and resources both nationally and locally.
I’m marching to celebrate my LGBTQIA+ community, and to honor Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and all the gender non-conforming women of color, queer youth, drag queens, lesbians, gay men and radical allies who fought back against institutionalized violent oppression of our community.
I’m marching to carry on my community’s tradition of opposition to transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other forms of oppression.
I’m marching to bring awareness to the systematic marginalization of my LGBTQIA+ community in the Coast Guard, in the broader U.S., and globally.
I marched because most of my military career was spent under the dark cloud of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. That discriminated against many of my friends who were exemplary soldiers and Coasties but because of that policy, they were told they could no longer wear their uniform and live their best life openly.
To be a part of the Pride March, especially on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and to be walking with members of the Coast Guard who had command approval to be there, was special. Seeing the outpouring of support and some surprise from the crowds as they saw our Coast Guard banner was amazing.
I marched first to remember the struggle that has always been there for the LGBTQIA+ community and which formally came to a public space here in the U.S. with Stonewall 50 years ago.
I also marched in support of all members of the LGBTQIA+ community, to show solidarity and say, “I’m in this fight, too, and whenever any of us are excluded, it damages us all!” And, lastly, but not least, I also marched to celebrate in a space where people can be whomever their authentic else is, without walls and façades: just be the truest version of you that there is inside and put it out to the world for all to see, admire and love! Now that’s a celebration I can get behind!!!
World Pride is something that will probably never happen again in the United States during our lifetime. World Pride travels every time it happens which isn’t every year but I believe every two years. This is one of the reasons I march. I march solely because I was given the opportunity by my peers who came before me.
The Stonewall riots were 50 years ago and the LGBTQ+ family members had their first pride march which marked the beginning of an era that would only make a big impact for the upbringing of the future. We are now (in most states) able to be who we are meant to be with little to no judgment. Which makes me feel good for the kids to come. I march now because growing up I didn’t have the option to be openly gay in my community but now I can.
I want to show the youth that it is okay being who you are meant to be, and by marching in this parade I have served my purpose. To be a contributing member to my community and paving the way for the future.