British Armed Service Personnel Join Gay Pride March

As usual, the Village People's "In the Navy" rang out during London's annual gay pride parade on Saturday.

For 22 of the marchers, it was true.

Wearing crisp navy blue jackets with gold striped cuffs, shining medals and ivory shirts, 22 Royal Navy personnel marched openly in uniform for the first time in the annual pride parade through central London.

"To be quite honest, it's a dream come true," said Petty Officer Karen Surtees, a navy medic based in Gibraltar. "I'm so excited about it, I felt ill this morning. We can express who we are, what we are and wear our uniforms in pride today."

Surtees said she joined the force 14 years ago, when being openly gay meant losing her job. She, like many others, kept quiet about her sexual orientation for years.

The British government lifted a ban on gays serving in the country's armed forces in 2000 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the restriction was a violation of human rights.

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Since then, soldiers and Royal Air Force personnel have marched officially in pride parades, but Saturday's outing was a naval first.

"After 23 years in the navy, mostly closeted, this is tremendous," said Commander David Walker, 47, of West Mersea, England. "It tells the general public the navy is gay friendly, and it tells the dinosaurs who think this should be swept under the carpet that the top brass supports us."

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Behind the sailors, thousands of revelers trailing pink, red and white Union Jack flags and rainbow balloons danced, cheered, paraded and lined the streets. Police said about 40,000 people participated.

"We've fought long and hard to have equality," said Thomas Haywood, 34, of Edinburgh, Scotland. "Today is a real celebration."

This year's march was the culmination of EuroPride, a two-week gay, lesbian and trans-gender festival held in a different European city each year.