by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hill
California National Guard Public Affairs
July 22, 2021
SAN DIEGO, Calif.—Lightning flashes on the horizon as dark clouds rumble, and a gentle, warm rain drizzles down on the colorful scene below. The showers force the attendees to the edges of the pool, but doesn’t stop the upbeat pop music thumping in the background or drown out the laughter of the party.
The rain falls but the smiles and laughter continue throughout. For these current and former military service members, they are well aware that after the downpour there’s always a rainbow to look forward to.
At first glance, it seems like any typical Pride event, but among the brightly colored flags there are also hats declaring veteran status, military tattoos, and tactical bags in shades of camel and brown.
The California Military Department celebrated Pride with the San Diego Military and Veteran Pride Contingency during a two-day event for veterans and Active-duty service members July-16-17.
“We don’t care who you love or how you gender identify, that’s irrelevant to us. We only care that you’re willing to fight, and that you’re willing to serve,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, the deputy adjutant general of the California National Guard.
San Diego’s Pride event is one of the largest Pride celebrations in the U.S. and has one of the largest military presence in the country. This year’s Pride featured an all-veteran color guard during the award ceremony at the Remembering Stonewall Rally to honor the Stonewall riots that took place in 1969, as well as a pool party at the Viejas Casino and Resort.
“We don’t care who you love or how you gender identify, that’s irrelevant to us. We only care that you’re willing to fight, and that you’re willing to serve.”
The Cal Guard has been participating in Pride since the repeal of DOMA in 2013 and has been supporting San Diego Pride for nearly five years. While the event usually includes a parade with veterans and service members marching, due to COVID-19, the organizers opted for smaller celebrations over the weekend.
The San Diego military contingency began almost 10 years ago, with a small number of veterans and Active-duty service members deciding to march as a contingent in the parade. It soon grew to hundreds of former and current military members marching each year, said Kelly Gilliland, a Navy veteran and the co-chair of San Diego Pride Military Contingent.
“The event is important so we can build a bridge between the California National Guard and Pride, so that we can bring awareness that the National Guard is accepting of all LGBT individuals who want to serve,” said Clay Kilpatrick, a Marine Corps veteran and a co-chair of the San Diego Pride Military Contingent.
For veterans and current military members, having this type of support is a step forward in progress from even a decade ago in recognizing all those who serve, regardless of who they love.
“I was even threatened that I could go to jail for who I was when I first got in, and then I was deployed when we could get married. So this is definitely a good experience, to be free to be ourselves with our brothers and sisters,” said Melarie Sobrenilla a former chaplain’s assistant in the Army Reserve.
Since its inception this event has now grown to hundreds of attendees, with some Active-duty members flying in from all across the U.S. to attend and celebrate with the LGBTQ+ community in San Diego.
“We recognize the entire demographic of California. It makes us more culturally astute, and it makes us more capable of serving the citizens of California in their time of need,” said Beevers.