Backlash After Manning Nixed by Pride Board
The board that oversees the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade is facing a backlash from community members after it rescinded a community grand marshal honor for Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, the gay man who leaked 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks.
Two days after releasing the list of grand marshals that included Manning, Lisa Williams, president of the board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, issued a terse statement that said his selection had been a "mistake" and that he would not be a grand marshal.
Manning, 25, who is currently in a military prison awaiting a court-martial, has a wide group of supporters in the LGBT community and beyond. He confessed in open court earlier this year to providing the material to WikiLeaks and is facing at least 20 years in prison.
On Monday, April 29, a hastily arranged protest was held outside of the Pride Committee’s Market Street offices, where famed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg said he would march in June’s Pride Parade in support of Manning.
An estimated 200 protesters were at the rally, expressing their frustration at Williams for rescinding the selection of Manning. Their anger was exacerbated by what they called "heavy-handed," "arrogant," "insulting," and "unprofessional" communication from Williams about her decision to withdraw the honor.
Rally organizers, gay peace and social justice activists Lisa Geduldig, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, and Michael Petrelis had two objectives. One, they wanted Manning re-instated as grand marshal. Two, they wanted Williams removed from the Pride board.
"He’s an anti-war hero, a whistle-blower who is gay," Geduldig said of Manning. "He was lip-synching to Lady Gaga while downloading classified documents. It doesn’t get more gay than that."
In his comments, Ellsberg, who helped bring the Vietnam War to an end by releasing government documents known as the Pentagon papers to the New York Times, said he had hoped to be a substitute for Manning.
"I was scratched," he said. "I will, however, be marching in support of Bradley Manning," he announced to loud audience approval.
Ellsberg reminded the crowd that "both President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew" had called him a "traitor" in the 1970s. He said it was a "mistake" not honoring Manning for what he said were honorable actions.
Manning’s selection seems to have divided gay military veterans. Some, including Zoe Dunning and Keith Meinhold, both former parade grand marshals, took to Facebook late last week, denouncing the Pride board for selecting Manning. Dunning said she was "furious" at the selection, and she and Meinhold both pointed out that Manning had taken an oath when he signed up for the military.
"Right or wrong there are consequences for that," Meinhold posted.
Others, such as John Caldera, 49, an honorably discharged U.S. Navy corpsman and openly gay member of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission, support Manning. Caldera announced that Bob Basker Post 315 of the American Legion has voted to call for the resignation of Williams.
Pride board President Lisa Williams(Photo: Rick Gerharter)
In her April 26 statement, Williams attributed Manning’s selection to an unnamed Pride staff member.
"A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations with the SF Pride organization," Williams said. "That was an error and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at the time, speak for SF Pride."
Williams did not return messages from the Bay Area Reporter seeking comment. Pride CEO Earl Plante, who’s on bereavement leave, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Some of those at Monday’s rally blamed corporate sponsors for the Pride board’s decision.
"SF Pride sponsors include Bank of America and Wells Fargo, who have foreclosed on hundreds of veteran families," Caldera said. He said sponsor Clear Channel broadcasts Rush Limbaugh’s anti-LGBT radio program. SF Pride is "corporatized," he charged.
In remarks after his speech, Caldera said Williams was "unqualified" for her job. He said she put corporate needs above those of the LGBT community.
Joey Cain, a former SF Pride board president and past grand marshal, told the crowd "Bradley Manning was a little gay boy like me" who made a "bad decision to join the military." He said the military discriminated against Manning because he was gay.