Jailed WikiLeaks whistleblower and US soldier, Bradley Manning, was named on April 25 as the grand marshal in this year’s LGBTI Pride Parade in San Francisco. But, amid controversy and pressure, San Francisco Pride president Lisa Williams issued a statement the next day rescinding the honour.
Manning was elected by former grand marshals, who form an electoral college to choose a grand marshal each year. Other grand marshals are appointed by the SF Pride board and by a community vote. Grand marshals are chosen for making significant contributions to the LGBTI community.
The honour involves taking part in the parade, riding in a convertible and waving to the crowd. Manning would still be in jail by the time of the parade in June, so Daniel Ellsburg famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971 that exposed official lies and crimes in the Vietnam War accepted the honour of representing Manning.
“That's the place for me to be on that day, on June 30, in that parade, expressing support for Bradley Manning, loud and clear,” Ellsberg said.
The reversal of the decision came as a shock to many in the LGBTI community. Barry Saiff, one of 15 former grand marshals on the electoral college, told the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “It wasn't until Friday that I found out about any controversy in the news media, like everybody else. And I was outraged.
The SF Pride statement described Manning's nomination as a “mistake” and blamed it on a staffmember who prematurely announced the news.
But the statement then went on to attack Manning, saying the US soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of secret documents exposing serious war crimes and government lies was not a good candidate for grand marshal.
It said: “Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country ... 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 ... Bradley Manning will have his day in court, but will not serve as an official participant in the SF Pride Parade.”
The bizarre defence of the decision hinted at the forces behind the rescinding.
Saiff said: “They [the Pride board] are colluding in the giant 'Support Our Troops' hoax that says you must never question the leadership of the military.
“There is actually no contradiction between supporting our troops as individuals, including our LGBT folks in the armed services, and supporting Bradley Manning and what he did.”
Immediately after it was announced Manning had been selected as a grand marshal, SF Pride came under fire from the military, which views Manning as a traitor who aided the enemy and endangered soldiers’ lives.
Sean Sala, a Navy veteran, started a petition and boycott once he heard the news. On his blog, he wrote: “This traitor who took Secret US information to WikiLeaks ... acted like the US was killing civilians on purpose like it's just something ‘we do’ …
“To say this disgusts me is an understatement. It truly is a sad day for our nation.”
Actually, it was not anything Manning said, but rather the the content of the leaks such as the infamous Collateral Damage video that revealed many cases of US soldiers killing civilians on purpose.
In a Salon debate on April 30, Sala admitted that his involvement in getting the Pentagon to approve uniformed military personnel marching in the SF Pride parade affected his reaction to Manning's appointment: “I DID get the Pentagon to certify the Uniforms. You would not believe the protocol I had to follow. How much right and left agendas tried to 'spoil' the March with their own personal agendas.
“And I had to keep the message pure, honor the Military. Follow protocol ... So I would say yes, it definitely influenced my opinion.”
But not all members of the LGBTI military community condemned Manning's appointment. Dan Choi became famous for coming out while serving as an infantry officer under “don't ask don't tell” in 2009. In the Salon debate, he said: Clearly, the very question we discuss now is whether the *world* should celebrate Bradley Manning.
Many people around the world did not know Manning's sexual orientation or gender identity ... that there are some Americans that will uncover war crimes even if it means withering away in a narrow jail cell, naked, harassed and demonized ... this sacrifice speaks louder than any corporate sponsorship of a parade.
Manning does a great deal for LGBT Equality, thusly.
Choi's mention of corporate sponsorship was not accidental. As investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald laid bare in The Guardian, there are many large corporations sponsoring SF Pride and taking part in the parade that deserve to be denounced by the board.
These include AT&T and Verizon, “the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability”.
There’s also Bank of America, currently being sued by the US government for allegedly engaging in systematic mortgage fraud that the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope".
In March, the bank was given a record fine for ignoring a judge’s orders and continuing to collect unauthorised mortgage payments.
Wells Fargo is another sponsor, also being sued by the US government for making reckless mortage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted.
Also sponsoring SF Pride is Clear Channel, the media outlet that broadcasts the right-wing radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannnity and Glenn Beck. The company is being sued by a pension fund for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company.
The healthcare company Kaiser Permanente, also a sponsor, is being investigated for privacy violations. It is accused of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records and has faced charges for dumping patients in downtown Los Angeles.
Greenwald wrote: “So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash.
“What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture.
“Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling pieties, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America.”
While this cultural struggle for Manning goes on in the community, the state continues to clamp down. On April 16, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decided that media and the public still have no right to access court documents relating to Manning’s case, such as transcripts, including his trial scheduled for June.