A group of former San Francisco Pride parade grand marshals that SF Pride calls its electoral college announced on April 26 that Pfc. Bradley Manning, the gay private who the United States military is currently prosecuting for disclosing information to WikiLeaks, had been selected as honorary grand marshal for this year’s LGBT Pride Celebration.
The decision greatly offended some of the most militaristic LGBT organizations and activists, who condemned SF Pride. That ultimately led to capitulation by SF Pride president, Lisa Williams, who announced in a letter that Manning would not be honored this year.
She cast the reversal as a product of dysfunction in the organization:
Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization. That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride.
She briefly noted the process for voting by the electoral college and then stated, “The Board of Directors for SF Pride never voted to support this nomination.”
SF Pride certainly has the right to, through whatever process, decide who to celebrate and who not to celebrate. The full story on what happened in the past twenty-four hours is not known yet so, in the meantime, the focus should be on the stated reasons by LGBT leaders, organizers and others against celebrating him.
Williams did not simply go through the motions and make a statement clarifying he would not be honored like military factions of the LGBT community wanted. She herself put forth a robust condemnation of Manning fueled by her own perceptions:
Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms 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. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country. There are many, gay and straight, military and non-military, who believe Bradley Manning to be innocent. There are many who feel differently. Under the US Constitution, they have a first amendment right to show up, participate and voice their opinions at Pride this year. [emphasis added]
The bio for Williams on SF Pride shows she works for a “political consulting and community advocacy” that serves Democratic Party politics. She “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign.” She also is the PAC chair of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition.
Scott Long at his blog on sex, rights and the world called “Paper Bird” highlights the irony that a person who chairs a coalition that is supposed to celebrate Rustin is fueling the vilification of Manning.
Rustin, if you remember, was one of the great figures of 20th-century America: a pacifist, a war resister, an icon of civil disobedience, and the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. (Also a gay man). Rustin spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector during the Second World War. The quote (slightly tweaked) came from a citizen of West Chester, PA, back in 2002, who objected to naming a school after Bayard Rustin. After all, the traitor broke US law, encouraged others to do likewise, and opposed the military and domestic policies of the United States.
The quote: “I am against naming it after Bayard Rustin, as he was a traitor to the good old United States of America. If we all had felt this way, Hitler would have ruled the world.”
Long quotes Rustin, who said the Vietnam War was “a useless, destructive, disgusting war …We must be on the side of revolutionary democracy. And, in addition to all the other arguments for a negotiated peace in Vietnam, there is this one: that it is immoral, impractical, un-political, and unrealistic for this nation to identify itself with a regime which does not have the confidence of its people … I say to the President: America cannot be the policeman of this globe!”
It is more than irony. It is indicative of what writer Chris Hedges would describe as a “preference for comfort or privilege over truth and confrontation.”
To apply Hedges’ wisdom to this moment, Williams is part of a liberal class, which derives its ideological stances from “what is most expedient to the careers of its members.” The liberal class “refuses to challenge, in a meaningful way, the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It glosses over the relentless assault on working men and women and the imperial wars that are bankrupting the nation. It proclaims its adherence to traditional liberal values while defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values.” And, Wiliams is wed to “pillars of the liberal establishment,” particularly the Democratic Party, which “honor an unwritten quid pro quo with corporations and the power elite, as well as our masters of war, on whom they depend for money, access and positions of influence.”
By capitulating, this is what the SF Pride Board of Directors led by Williams enables.
—A Navy veteran and gay military activist named Sean Sala, who immediately launched a campaign to boycott the SF Pride parade this year if Manning was honored and wrote in a press statement:
…As the organizer of the 2011 Active Duty Military March in San Diego Pride and working with the Pentagon to approve the first ever Uniformed Military march in a Pride parade, I am appalled, infuriated and sad. San Francisco has spit in the face of LGBT Military by using a traitor to our country as a poster child. They are not using Manning for anything they truly admire, only to boost their attendance and garnish more currency for their parade….
Manning’s blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation should not be praised…No community of such a strong and resilient people should be represented by the treacherous acts that define Bradley Manning.
—Josh Seefried, co-chairman of OutServe-SLDN, which is a network of active-duty LGBT military personnel:
Bradley Manning’s actions were a disgrace. We just won the repeal of DADT, by the LGBT community ‘honoring’ him it sends a signal to the broader community, including the whole military community, that we think he is some sort of hero.
—Zoe Dunning, a retired Navy commander, lesbian and San Francisco activist, who told The San Francisco Chronicle she considered Manning’s designation an “error”:
He has done nothing for the LGBT Community, which is the criteria for a grand marshal…He just happens to be gay, which is not sufficient.
—Neil Kovrig, a member of the LGBT community:
What I suppose bothers me the most about the whole thing – irrespective of the treason he clearly committed, which is reason enough for him to be a terrifyingly-bad choice – is WHY certain people in the LGBT community hold him up as some sort of gay activist hero. He does not represent me, my friends, my community, or the best and brightest among us. THAT is what Pride is about; Bradley Manning is the least prideful thing we as a community have to “celebrate.”
Manning did engage in LGBT activism even as he was enlisted in the military when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still policy and could have been used against him if superior officers discovered he was going to protests. For example, from Denver Nicks’ book, Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks and the Biggest Exposure of Officials Secrets in American History.
…Brad had long been interested in politics, but living under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell inspired a new level of passion in him. In November, he made the hour-and-a-half drive from Fort Drum to the Syracuse city hall for a rally against Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned a state supreme court decision allowing same-sex marriage. At the protest, Brad was interviewed anonymously by a student reporter. “I was kicked out of my home, and I once lost my job,” he told her. “The world is not moving fast enough for us at home, work or the battlefield.” He went on, “I’ve been living a double life….I can’t make a statement. I can’t be caught in the act. I hope the public support changes. I hope to do that before ETS [Expiration of Term of Service, when an enlisted soldier finishes his commitment in the army].”
In his statement read in military court on February 28, where Manning confessed to disclosing most of the information he is alleged to have provided to WikiLeaks, he shared how, on January 23, 2010, he was on “mid-tour leave” and visited his boyfriend Tyler Watkins in the Boston area. Watkins “did not seem very excited” about his “return from Iraq.” He tried to talk to him about their relationship, but he “refused to make any plans.”
Manning asked what he would do if he saw Iraq and Afghanistan military incident reports of which he had access and thought the public deserved access. Watkins had no “specific answer.” He tried to follow what Manning was saying but was confused. Manning tried to be more specific yet he was asking “too many questions.”
The conversation was dropped because he could not explain his dilemma. And, after a few days, he felt he’d overstayed his welcome and left to spend the rest of his time on leave in the Washington, DC, area with his aunt.
This is a story that reflects the humanity of Manning, who wondered what the effect of blowing the whistle on information might be on his boyfriend whom he loved.
Finally, there may be no clearer articulation of why members of the LGBT community may want to support Manning than this excerpt from a reactionary piece written by James Kirchick, a fellow with the right-wing defense think tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and contributing editor for The New Republic. His article was republished by OUT.com in May 2012:
For centuries, gay people have served with distinction and honor in the armed forces, and it is the service of these countless veterans whom today’s gays can thank for the freedom to serve openly. Bradley Manning’s actions are fodder to those who have long argued that homosexuality naturally leads to treason; some on the far right have argued that his actions were intended as “revenge” over the military’s then-enforced anti-gay policy. It is unconscionable that gay activists, of all people, would play into these slanders.
It would seem not honoring him plays into “these slanders.” One would think that people arguing “homosexuality naturally leads to treason” are only enabled by casting Manning as a villain. It would seem to reinforce what people like Ann Coulter on the far-right have said, which is Manning committed this act to lash out against the military for anti-gay policies. However, it is clear from Manning’s lucid and profound statement in court that he was deliberate and reasoned in his decisions about what specific information to disclose to WikiLeaks for release to the world.
Manning is classic whistleblower like Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg is a classic whistleblower, one revered and considered honorable today. It is very possible that parts of the military chain of command, in the aftermath of Manning’s acts, harbor this preconception that they should keep an eye on homosexual soldiers because they may present more of an “insider threat” to the military. It would be unfair to all in the military if people were considered more likely to expose secrets because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.