“Shame, Shame, Shame!” SF Pride Parade Revokes Choice of Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal

Revolution Newspaper | May 9, 2013

The San Francisco Pride Parade is the largest and most famous LGBT Pride event in the world. Every year hundreds of thousands crowd into downtown San Francisco to cheer as the rainbow colors fly over a mile of floats, marching bands, dancers, celebrities, and contingents and then a huge festival. People come from around the world to be at San Francisco Pride. Today’s festivities are more mainstream and more commercialized than in its edgy earlier days, but Pride still symbolizes freedom, dignity and liberation for LGBT people.

So when the Pride organization named Bradley Manning as the 2013 Parade Grand Marshal, it was big news. Manning is the U.S. Army private now facing court-martial, charged with the largest-ever unauthorized release of classified State Department cables and other government and military documents, many of which have been published by WikiLeaks. He is 25 years old and openly gay; while in the army he became an activist for gay rights, including marching in a Pride parade and speaking to the press. He was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of the WikiLeaks files (for background see Revolution articles "The High Stakes Persecution of Bradley Manning", June 26, 2011, and "Interview with Kevin Gosztola: The Political Persecution & Inhumane Punishment of Bradley Manning", June 24, 2012).  

For two years around the country big “Free Bradley Manning!” contingents have marched in Pride parades, but now on the eve of his court-martial, honoring him as Grand Marshal at the San Francisco parade signaled a righteous and welcome leap in public support. (Since Manning is locked in a military prison awaiting trial, and can’t personally lead the parade, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg stepped forward to ride in Manning’s place.)

But just days after the choice of Manning was announced, the Pride committee revoked the decision, issuing a baldly pro-military and anti-Bradley Manning statement that said in part: “[E]ven 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. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country….”

An immediate outcry went up, with a large rally outside the Pride office mobilized overnight where former Pride Grand Marshals and representatives of other LGBT organizations, including the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, spoke out, joined by other antiwar voices from the Bradley Manning Support Network, Daniel Ellsberg, World Can’t Wait, Veterans for Peace and others. Chanting “THEY say Court Martial—WE say Grand Marshal!” the protesters denounced the Pride leadership and demanded Manning’s reinstatement. Denunciations of Pride’s decision as “cowardly,” “militaristic,” and “shameful” are blistering the pages of the LGBT media, and a full-page open letter signed by dozens of LGBT leaders has already been published in The SF Bay Reporter newspaper.

On May 7 the Pride Board of Directors held a public meeting, but in a conference room large enough for an audience of only 20, with cameras and the media barred and speakers from the public limited to 60 seconds each. With 100 protesters outside, chanting so loudly that Board members at times had to raise their voices to be heard, the Board announced its refusal to reinstate Manning—but this time, carefully avoiding any mention of war or court-martials or uniforms. Now they cited several new and ridiculous points of Pride committee bureaucracy, including Bradley Manning’s ineligibility to be Grand Marshal because “he isn’t local.” The ensuing “Shame, Shame, Shame” uproar forced the Board to adjourn early, and although they say this meeting will be rescheduled, no information about when or where has yet been announced.

The political firestorm that has broken open over Bradley Manning and the San Francisco Pride parade is of great import not only for the LGBT community but far beyond. As Revolution wrote in the article "The High Stakes Persecution of Bradley Manning": “Anyone who wants to see truth revealed, war crimes exposed and stopped, and justice done must demand that the persecution of Bradley Manning be ended, his charges dropped, and that he is freed.”

The Pride organization’s words and actions should send a chill down the backs of everyone. They accuse Manning of putting American troops in harm’s way and say “even a hint of support” for him can’t be “tolerated” in the LGBT community. What is happening when a whole section of the people—who have been the victims of systematic discrimination, persecution, and violent suppression—are ordered by these purported community leaders and spokespeople to support the U.S. war machine, and NOT support courageous resistance against it?

And what morality and outlook is being enforced when gay leaders try to bully the gay community into this pro-war complicity, denying honor to this courageous young gay soldier because “Bradley Manning hasn’t done anything for gay people”? (Unless these supposed leaders are impossibly ignorant, they are ignoring the well-known fact that long before his arrest, Bradley was an activist against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, marched in Pride parades, and spoke out publicly as an active-duty soldier advocating for gay rights in the military.)

Joey Cain is a past president of Pride, and a former Grand Marshal. At the first protest Cain responded to this raggedy excuse: “I’ve got news for you! The gay community is part of the larger human community. What Bradley Manning did was something that was heroic… It helped the larger humanity, which we are part of! And if Pride is gonna say ‘You have to do this narrow thing that’s specifically gay-focused’ we’re gonna end up with NO ONE to be Grand Marshal, because once we all have our liberation as gay people, what about everybody else? Gay people are part of the larger world. Bradley made the larger world a better, better place!”

Bradley Manning’s court-martial is scheduled to begin June 3. A massive public rally supporting him will gather on June 1 at Ft Meade. San Francisco Pride follows on the weekend of June 30.

This article originally appeared on revcom.us on May 9, 2013.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.