By Oscar Y. Harward
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.
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. About 200 service members last year wore T-shirts with their branch's name.
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."
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.
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."
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.