Op-ed: How San Francisco Pride Has Failed Bradley Manning

Writer Victoria A. Brownworth believes San Francisco Pride's messy grand marshal debacle makes a mockery out of the tradition of pride in general.



At left: Daniel Ellsberg, the U.S. military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corp. in 1971, released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, to The New York Times, delivers remarks December 22, 2011, at the gate to Fort Meade, Md. Ellsberg spoke on the similarity of his case to that of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.


Under Williams’s direction, S.F. Pride has tried to quell dissent over the Manning pick just as the Obama administration has tried to quell the dissent Manning’s actions instigated.

As Waggoner’s complaint reads, "The Board’s invalidation of a democratic vote by executive fiat is unconscionable. Moreover, it’s illegal. The Pride Board must reinstate the will of the Electoral College. Failing that, the Human Rights Commission should investigate this complaint of discrimination and take whatever steps necessary to ameliorate its harmful effects as soon as possible."

In a statement released after the complaint was filed and just before the meeting to discuss the issue, Williams said the choice of Manning violated the board's policy because no one outside the community could be grand marshal.

Really? That’s what you came up with a full week into the furor and months after the vote was first presented? Had this San Francisco-only clause actually existed, then the first statement from Williams would have said that and only that — those who nominated Manning were unaware that the bylaws stipulate that only San Franciscans be grand marshal. Period. There would have been no slanderous accusations about Manning, no self-righteous statements about "disciplining" those who had chosen Manning. It would have been simple and straightforward.

And there would have been no controversy.

But the controversy continues and likely will until Manning is either reinstated solo or made co-grand marshal with a member of the San Francisco LGBT community. As Avicolli Mecca said, "This is not going away."

The story of S.F. Pride versus Bradley Manning and S.F. Pride versus the activist community of San Francisco is an ugly one that illumines the maggoty underside of assimilationist politics and policies. In the quest for straight acceptance that has propelled the LGBT community headlong into the arms of two of the most historically repressive institutions, marriage and the military, dissent has become anathema. The values of ads that used to pepper the personals in queer newspapers and magazines "seeking straight-looking, straight-acting, no fats, no fems" have become internalized within the community.

The controversy over Manning highlights what has happened in the juggernaut move toward equality — there’s no room for outliers. Either you are a Lisa Williams-style straight-acting, straight-looking martinet with no temper for dissent or you are like the people who signed the complaint — activists all — who recognize that our queer story is not going to be told simply through marriage equality and being able to enlist openly in the military.

Marriage and military equality are important, but they aren’t our only issues. Manning took the actions he did because of his outrage over DADT, which was still in effect throughout his deployment. But he also acted like so many patriots have over our nation’s history — out of loyalty to American democracy. Manning thought the government was lying to the people.

So he told them the truth.

S.F. Pride has been unable to tell the truth to the LGBT community in San Francisco. It denied access to the community in what was billed a community meeting.

The problems in San Francisco are problems we face as a minority community. What are our objectives 44 years post-Stonewall with another state validating marriage equality the same day as the fracas in San Francisco? Is straight tolerance so important to us that we are willing to throw any gay man or lesbian under the bus who doesn’t adhere to that singular goal?

The debate in San Francisco began over Bradley Manning but has become about the very roots of our movement: Where do we go from here?

Manning exposed the government for who and what it is. In San Francisco, Manning has exposed the LGBT community as riven — are we a community of activists or a community of assimilationists?

Carol Queen may have answered that question with her comment at the board meeting. Queen, who was a grand marshal in 2001 and 2008, saw the board’s recent actions as conservative and concerning. "I came out in 1973, and I just want to say on an historical level that this is a more conservative community than it was when I came out."

In 1973, at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Bradley Manning would have been our unequivocal hero — like Ellsberg was. If an 82-year-old straight man who stood up against another war can identify with Manning’s actions and fight for justice for him, shouldn’t LGBT people be doing the same?

That’s a question not just for San Francisco but for us all.

VICTORIA A. BROWNWORTH is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist who has won the NLGJA and Society of Professional Journalists Awards for her series on LGBT issues. She is the author and editor of more than 30 books, including the award-winning Too Queer: Essays From a Radical Life. She lives in Philadelphia. Find her on Twitter at @VABOX.