I don't want military recruiters at Pride

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca

I approached the table in drag. Radical drag, that is. I wasn’t trying to pass as a woman. I was being a gender outlaw. Like a lot of gay liberationists, I didn’t believe in the binary gender system. 

I was wearing a halter top, tight, hot pink pants and platform shoes. My hair was a mass of frizz that sometimes stuck straight out in absolute defiance of gravity, especially when the weather was warm and humid. As it was that morning.

The table was at a student fair at Temple University in Philadelphia where I went to school to avoid the draft. Behind it were two men from ROTC (Reserved Officers’ Training Corps) who looked like they had just stepped out of a corn field. They were the blondest men I’d ever seen. 

“I wanna join,” I said.

Their eyes visibly bugged out. They shook their heads in unison, as it had been choreographed.

I wasn’t being serious. My attempt to enlist was part of what we called a zap, that is, an unexpected, announced action against persons or institutions we felt were oppressing “the people.” Gay Liberation Front, which was against the draft and the Vietnam War, decided on the action to send a message to recruiters that we didn’t want their kind on campus. 

I was suddenly joined at the table by my comrades in GLF who proceeded to hassle the blondes until they packed up and left. Then we broke out the portable record player and piled on a bunch of Supremes and other popular gay dance tunes and had ourselves a party at our booth at the fair.

Imagine my surprise when I read in the SF Chronicle today, forty years later, that the military, including the California National Guard, will be recruiting at the festival after the Pride Parade next Sunday. They’ve already been to two other Pride celebrations in the state this month.

I don’t want military recruiters at Pride. 

I’ve been really uncomfortable with the corporate sponsorships that have increased over the years. Marching in the same lineup with Wells Fargo and At&T is bad enough, but knowing that, for the first time ever, gay men and lesbians (transgender people are not included in the lifting of Don't Ask Don't Tell) will be recruited at the Pride festival into one of the most evil institutions on the planet is too much to take. 

SF Pride's CEO Earl Plante is welcoming the recruiters. "We're excited to see the fruits of our labor paying off," he told the SF Chronicle. "We're moving toward a positive resolution (with the military). In 10 to 20 years, people may be wondering what the big fuss was about."

In 10 to 20 years there may be another fuss -- one involving how returning gay and lesbian vets from this country's latest war for oil and profits are being treated by the very community that fought for their right to be out in the military. 

Will this community take care of these returning vets when they need, but don’t get, their promised benefits from the feds? Will it find housing for them when they end up on the streets and legal help for them when they are ticketed and arrested for violations of anti-panhandling and sit/lie laws?

If the experiences of women soldiers is any indication, then the answer is probably not. Homeless female vets are the fastest growing homeless population, and yet not many people are rushing to their aid. Stepping over and cursing them on the streets, yes, but not much else.

Then there are those gay and lesbian soldiers who will come home in body bags. Or who will make headlines for gunning down civilians or journalists. Hopefully, there will be more whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, who leaked videos of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, among the thousands of documents he released to Wikileaks.

SF Pride recently rejected Manning as a grand marshal, even after he was duly elected by its electoral college, because he supposedly puts U.S. military personnel, gay and straight, in "harm's way." Which is absolutely not true. Manning has put no one, but himself in danger. But recruiters certainly do put gays and lesbians in the greatest harm's way there is -- a battlefield. Yet SF Pride welcomes them with open arms. 

It makes me want to scream.

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