by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
On Monday, April 29, about 200 people gathered for a hastily arranged protest outside the Market Street office of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee (SF Pride). The reason? Pfc. Bradley Manning.
While you've no doubt heard his name in the news as the U.S. Army soldier who leaked 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks, you might be surprised to know that he is Gay. Also surprising was SF Pride's decision to select the 25-year-old, who is currently in a military prison awaiting court-martial, as a grand marshal for San Francisco's 2013 Pride celebration. Two days later, however, the honor was rescinded.
Now, the board of SF Pride is facing a backlash from community members and veterans' groups such as the San Francisco chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (SF IVAW).
'The beginnings of San Francisco's Gay liberation movement were deeply tied up with mass mobilizations against the Vietnam War, alongside thousands of GI resisters like B. Manning,' said SF IVAW in a press release. 'SF Pride has broken with its own tradition of appointing controversial community leaders and freedom fighters as grand marshals.'
Manning's name was announced with those of the other grand marshals on April 24. Two days later, SF Pride President Lisa Williams issued a statement calling his selection a 'mistake' - one that she attributed to an unnamed SF Pride staff member. She said Manning would not be a grand marshal.
'A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations with the SF Pride organization,' said Williams. 'That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at the time, speak for SF Pride.'
Manning was selected by an 'electoral college' consisting of former SF Pride grand marshals. One of those former marshals, Gary Virginia, who said he voted for Manning, is claiming that Williams and Pride CEO Earl Plante 'changed the rules by which marshals are selected' after Manning was chosen.
In her statement, Williams said that Manning received fewer than 15 votes, but she did not specify how many votes were cast altogether.
FORMAL COMPLAINT FILED
'Mismanagement has disgraced and diminished our community,' Virginia told the crowd of protesters at the April 29 rally in support of Manning.
'They denounced him for what he stands for politically as a whistleblower,' said David Wagner, a San Francisco attorney. 'That's illegal under San Francisco law. You can't get money from the city and then turn around and discriminate against people on the basis of their moral convictions.'
Wagner has filed a discrimination complaint against SF Pride with the city's Human Rights Commission, claiming SF Pride discriminated against board members who voted for Manning.
Williams reasoned that because Manning is facing the military justice system, he is not eligible to be a marshal.
'We all await the decision of that system,' said Williams. 'However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harm's way the lives of our men and women in uniform - and countless others, military and civilian alike - will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.'
In a later statement, given at SF Pride's board meeting on May 7, Williams cited Manning's not being 'local enough' as another reason for rescinding the honor.
'The powerful group [SF Pride] found perhaps the most marginalized, powerless homosexual in the nation, pulled him into the spotlight for a few hours, took a giant shit on him, roughed him up a little, called him names, and then kicked him back into the gutter,' wrote Steven Thrasher, a former Village Voice writer who was named Journalist of the Year 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, on his blog.
'AN ANTI-WAR HERO'
Shouting 'Shame on Pride' and 'They say court-martial, we say grand marshal,' protesters at the April 29 rally expressed their frustration at SF Pride, particularly Williams and Plante, for rescinding Manning's invitation, calling their actions 'arrogant,' 'heavy-handed,' 'insulting,' and 'unprofessional.'
'He's an anti-war hero - a whistleblower who is Gay,' said local activist and comedian Lisa Geduldig. 'He was lip-synching to Lady Gaga while downloading classified documents. It doesn't get more Gay than that.'
Joey Cain, a former SF Pride board president, past grand marshal, and 'electoral college' member, told the crowd, 'Bradley Manning was a little Gay boy like me' who made a 'bad decision to join the military.'
'Manning is a hero,' added Cain, who said he also voted for Manning.
Renowned Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who attended the rally, said he would march in San Francisco's Pride Parade in support of Manning. Virginia, while not speaking on behalf of his position at SF Pride, likewise assured supporters that San Francisco's Pride celebration would honor Manning.
Some of the protesters and speakers called attention to corporate sponsors in relation to the board's decision to rescind Manning's honor.
'SF Pride sponsors include Bank of America and Wells Fargo, who have foreclosed on hundreds of veteran families,' said John Caldera, a Gay U.S. Navy veteran and member of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission.
'Listen up, fellow homos - you have been bought, paid for, and sold to the highest bidder. The military-industrial complex is so far up the ass of the LGBT movement that it can feel what is being digested,' wrote Thrasher. 'Dissent will not be tolerated, and the assimilation of homosexuals into the rest of the militarized American public is complete.'
Caldera also called attention to media giant Clear Channel, another sponsor of SF Pride, which broadcasts Rush Limbaugh's right-wing radio program. Calling Williams 'unqualified' for the presidency, Caldera claimed she has put corporate needs above the needs of the LGBT community.
LGBT VETERANS SPLIT
Unsurprisingly, Manning's selection seems to have created a divide among LGBT military veterans. Keith Meinhold and Zoe Dunning, both veterans and former SF Pride grand marshals, denounced the selection of Manning, saying he taken an oath when he enlisted in the Army - an oath he didn't keep.
In her April 26 statement, Williams said the selection of Manning would be 'an insult to everyone, Gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.'
Fred Schein, president of San Francisco Log Cabin Republicans, also said that his group does not support Manning being a grand marshal. Of the April 29 rally, Schein said the protesters struck him as 'the usual suspects' and 'leftover Occupy types.'
'As veterans, we have witnessed the effects of U.S. occupations on civilian populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As violence wracks communities throughout Iraq this month, we note with sadness that today's Iraq is less safe for Gay men - as well as women of all sexual orientations - than it was a decade ago when the U.S. invaded,' said SF IVAW.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Manning was arrested in May 2010 during his tour of duty in Iraq. He was initially held in conditions a United Nations inspector called 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading.' On February 28 this year, he pled guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in a military prison. He is currently in custody at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia. To learn more about Bradley Manning or to write to him, visit www.bradleymanning.org.
SF IVAW is calling on the LGBT community and all supporters of Bradley Manning to contact SF Pride and demand his reinstatement as a grand marshal. E-mails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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