By Steve Zeiger, MSgt (Ret) Air Force. who created the military component to Pride St. Louis 2013.
Last year, Pride 2012, I initially had the flags carried by each member of the armed forces. This led to what I wanted to do this year for 2013. The idea of what I wanted to do for the military and the wreath laying to honor LGBT members who served in secret, would be a first for this country.
To my knowledge this has never been done before, or documented. I wanted it to be special and make it happen in my home town of St. Louis for the country to see. My organizational and creative juices started flowing. My first thought was, we need to start by honoring the fallen LGBT members who fought and died for this country, and created a speech fitting to honor them.
I designed and submitted my idea for the wreath to Walter Knoll. I wanted it to be representative to the fallen LGBT members who served. I also commissioned a one of a kind dog tag to give away to people, so I went to Cheap Trix and they ordered what I had designed. I paid for the tags and the wreath myself.
Then I wanted to do something even bigger, so decided to put in motion to have the memorial lit in pride colors, but didn't have a lot of time to put together a fund raiser.
I found a contractor, Ironman Sound Designs in Brentwood, I called them to see what kind of cost I would be facing, we talked, he ended up giving me a good deal. I contacted a lot of my friends, Bad Dog Bar and Grille donated money on line into the Military Diversity account which was set up on the LGBT Center of St. Louis' website, and JJs Clubhouse wrote me a check, made it out to the LGBT Center of St. Louis. I wanted it made out to the LGBT Center and not me personally, to keep everything accounted for. I then had Colin Lovett, Board President of the LGBT Center of St. Louis write me a check from the Center on the funds I had raised to pay for the expenses. I then asked all my friends if they could donate $20, they all said yes, so, within a week I had the money to pay the contractor. I didn't use any public money.
I also wanted music, Lynnea Magnuson, Curator of the Solider's Memorial, told me about her friend and co-worker who played the bugle, so I found my bugler to play taps. I then wanted to have speakers and a sound system, So I contacted Andrea Sanderson, she came to me by way of a Kat O'Brien. I spoke with Andrea, and I had my DJ who played the National Anthem and sang God Bless America.
I had everything in place, all I needed was another person to lay the wreath with me, I initially had a Marine who said he could do it, then he couldn't, so I asked Mayor Slay's office if he could, before I got an answer back from them, I thought it would be more appropriate to have a military member do the ceremony with me.
I spoke with my friend Colin Lovett, he told me about his granddad who is a 90 year old Lt Col, (Ret) Air Force WWII veteran. He wanted to speak of his experiences and about his grandson Colin. I thought this was perfect, so I called the Mayor's office and said I found a WWII vet. It was a perfect ceremony and done very respectfully. Many people (family, friends, and strangers) and media attended.
On Sunday, the day of the parade, we had the military active duty, guard and reserves and veterans walk in the parade, carrying their appropriate flags. Sarah Sanders and Katiuscia O'Brian of the John Cochran VA Hospital helped organize the veterans to walk in the parade. They have done an outstanding job of putting together the LGBT Group within the St. Louis VA system and keeping the awareness out there for all veterans. In the parade we were following Lt Col. Lovett and Colin Lovett who were riding in a car ahead of us carrying the American flag. We didn't have a "float" entry in the parade, due to lack of time, and Colin Lovett paid for our entry out of his pocket.
I'm very proud of how the entire Military addition turned out. The dedication and attention to detail we focused on made the wreath laying ceremony and participating in the parade a very moving and memorable end result. I want to personally thank everyone for their support of this very historic event. Photo by Scott Lokitz.