‘I refuse to go back in hiding’: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ days loom large during Pride Day parade at Yokosuka
Stars and Stripes June 28, 2023
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Twelve years ago, the U.S. military prohibited LGBTQ+ service members from disclosing their sexuality — what one sailor described as a “silent attack” on her existence — but those sentiments were nowhere to be found at a Pride Day parade here Wednesday.
Rather than hiding part of their identity or their support for the LGBTQ+ community, about 70 sailors and civilians paraded through the streets of this naval base sporting rainbow-themed outfits and flags.
Starting at Purdy Gym, the group steadily gathered more people along its route until it concluded at Kosano Park. The event wrapped up with speeches, games and refreshments, and participants cheerily chatted among themselves as they celebrated LGBTQ+ culture and history.
“I’m here to tell you, right now, this is where we come together to celebrate our individual differences and to really talk about equality and unity and respect for one another,” said Capt. Les Sobol, base commander, as the parade kicked off.
Cheerful moments were interspersed with somber reflections on the history of LGBTQ+ service members and personal anecdotes of struggles from active-duty sailors.
“When I joined in 2008, I felt accepted by my community — those who I felt the most secure and safe around — but ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a silent attack on my existence,” Petty Officer 1st Class Steph Bolding said in a speech after the march.
DADT was the official U.S. policy that prohibited non-heterosexual service members from disclosing their sexuality between 1994 and 2011.
Bolding, the lead organizer behind Wednesday’s event, said she is proud to be in the Navy. As a masculine-presenting woman, she was “forced to hide a huge piece” of herself during her first three years of service, she said.
“When Obama repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ I never imagined the freedom, the relief I would feel once I could show up as my full self in all areas of my life,” she said. “For the first time in the military, I felt validated, and I refuse to go back in hiding.”
In addition to Pride Month and Pride Day, the parade served as a reminder that Yokosuka is “pro-people,” said Larry Criner, chief information officer and director of fleet and family services.
“You can’t be pro-people and not pro-Pride,” he told Stars and Stripes after the parade. “This event is exactly that. It shows how accepting [Yokosuka Naval Base] is as a command and how accepting it is as a community.”
U.S. military bases at home and abroad are hosting Pride events this month but several, including two in Japan, canceled drag shows after the Biden administration banned them from military bases on June 1. The ban followed Republican condemnation of drag shows and general criticism of LGBTQ+ events.
Drag events were canceled at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa; Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; and Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
“I will say this, vote for your rights. Participate in those difficult conversations, not only with your peers but with your chain of command, because that matters,” Bolding said in her speech. “Don’t allow yourself to be silenced; make your voice heard.”