PrideFest's Wreath-Laying Origins

24, June 2016
Photo of Steve ZeigerRetired U.S. Air Force master sergeant Steve Zeiger, creator of PrideFest's wreath-laying ceremony

After retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 2007, I immediately got more involved with my local LGBT community in St. Louis, Missouri. I knew PrideFest happened each year, and I thought it would be a nice idea to get a group of LGBT veterans together and walk in the Pride Parade to celebrate our military service and LGBT identity, a testament to the fact that our nation’s miliary branches are made up of not only straight persons but gay persons as well. When I found out that PrideFest was being moved downtown to the Soldiers Memorial site, the thought came to me to create a wreath-laying ceremony that would honor all the service members from past wars who identified as LGBT but served in silence, unable to ever acknowledge it. I brought the idea to the Pride St. Louis board of directors, and they loved it.

Logo for PrideFest 2016

In 2012 my ceremony idea became a reality. I paid for a wreath, formed an honor guard to be present and participate, asked a singer to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and found a bugler to play “Taps.” The ceremony opened PrideFest that year, to much media and public attention. The feedback was so amazingly positive that the Pride St. Louis board offered me the position of director of operations, a role I hold to this day. The ceremony I created now opens PrideFest each year, and Boeing has come on board to sponsor the ceremony and walk in the parade behind the honor guard. I truly couldn't be more proud of what I created here.

Photo of wreath laying at PrideFestA view of the PrideFest wreath-laying ceremony. Image courtesy of Steve Zeiger.

But it wasn’t quite enough. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was time to honor all the fallen LGBT members who served in silence. In 2012, I approached the Veterans Day Parade committee about having an LGBT honor guard walk in the parade—something that had never happened before. The committee loved the idea, and so we walked in that year’s parade, with overwhelming positive support from the public. Knowing what I had created for PrideFest, the city commissioners asked me to be the chair of the Veterans Day Parade committee the following year. That led to the mayor asking me to join the Soldiers Memorial Commission.

My creation of the PrideFest wreath-laying ceremony sparked these firsts for St. Louis—and perhaps even some firsts for our nation because, to my knowledge, no other gay persons hold these positions. For all of this, I am thankful and full of pride, both for my service to my country and for what I’m doing for my LGBT family.

—Steve Zeiger, Soldiers Memorial Commissioner and Director of Operations for Pride St. Louis

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