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The board that oversees the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade is facing a backlash from community members after it rescinded a community grand marshal honor for Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, the gay man who leaked 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks.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.
"Manning is a hero" and helped the "larger humanity with his actions," said Cain, who told the B.A.R. that he nominated Manning for the grand marshal honor.
Queer feminist Rainey Reitman, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, told the crowd her group had raised over $1 million to defend Manning.
"Now his family does not have to mortgage their home to defend him," she said. The support group will pay "100 percent of his legal fees," she added.
Stephen Funk, a gay man who was court-martialed for his opposition to the Iraq war, began his remarks by saying "Bradley Manning is so cute." He called Manning a "freedom fighter."
Funk said Williams’s statement contained "false statements" and was an "insult to the military." He credited Manning with the world democracy movement, including the Arab Spring that democratized Egypt in 2011.
In her statement, Williams said that Manning is facing the military justice system.
"We all await the decision of that system," she said. "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."
She added that it would be "an insult to everyone, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country."
Former Pride grand marshal Gary Virginia, 53, called on Williams and Plante to explain the process by which grand marshals are selected.
Manning was selected by what Pride refers to as its electoral college, comprised of former grand marshals. Virginia, who said he voted for Manning in that process, said Williams and Plante had "changed the rules by which marshals are selected" after Manning was elected.
In her statement, Williams said that Manning received fewer than 15 votes. She did not say how many votes were cast.
A quick survey by the B.A.R. of former community grand marshals going back to 2006 found that at least 12 did not receive the email from the Pride Committee containing the four electoral college nominees and did not vote.
"Mismanagement has disgraced and diminished our community," Virginia said. He reminded the crowd that he and B.A.R. society columnist Donna Sachet were co-founders of the Pride Brunch, which raises about $30,000 yearly for the Positive Resource Center. He assured supporters this year’s event would "honor" Manning.
Virginia and many other LGBT leaders said they had tried to call Williams and Plante, but they were not returning calls.
Sue Englander of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club said the LGBT movement was not monolithic and differences of opinion were expected.
"For anti-war, anti-military industrial complex and non-violence groups, Bradley Manning is a hero to workers and LGBT people in the military," she said.
Englander added that Milk club members will be "marching for Bradley Manning in June" and they were "proud Daniel Ellsberg will be marching also."
Still, not all LGBTs were pleased that Manning had been selected in the first place.
Fred Schein, 72 and president of San Francisco Log Cabin Republicans, said his group does not support Manning being grand marshal. In an email after the event, he said he was not impressed with the speakers. He said the Manning supporters struck him as the "usual suspects" and "leftover Occupy types."
"Log Cabin has learned from this entire experience and is better prepared to respond to such an issue in the future," Schein said. "We will keep an eye on this matter, but believe it is now going to be focused internally in the Pride organization, which I suspect won’t be pleasant."