Bradley Manning is escorted out of a Maryland courthouse in 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana.)
At the end of April, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Committee announced that Bradley Manning, a Nobel Peace Prize–nominated gay veteran and whistleblower currently languishing inside a military prison for releasing classified military documents to Wikileaks, would be a grand marshal at this year’s pride parade. But mere hours after the news broke, San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee President Lisa Williams released a statement rescinding the honor and calling the decision “a mistake that never should have been allowed to happen.”
The controversy has divided the LGBT military community and drawn significant attention to what some critics have seen as Pride’s backing away from contentious issues and embracing of corporate sponsors. As a long time queer youth and antiwar activist, I couldn’t keep silent.
Let’s start with William’s own words. Williams claims, “the hint of support for actions that placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform…will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It…would be, an insult.” But contrary to William’s intentional misrepresentation of the facts, investigations have demonstrated that no military personal have been harmed as a result of Manning’s actions. Rather, Manning’s bravery has revealed to Americans the gruesome reality behind US wars and occupations abroad. The only people endangered by Manning’s actions are the politicians and military officials accountable for engineering, covering up and justifying the US war efforts.
Most glaring in William’s statement is her blatant disregard for the lives of LGBTQ people beyond the borders of American soil. What about the violence carried out by US military forces against the LGBTQ people of Iraq and Afghanistan? The death and destruction inflicted by military drones against the people of Pakistan and Yemen, plenty of them queer? Or the countless LGBTQ Palestinians forced to endure the trauma of living under Israeli apartheid and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank? Do the lives of Arab, Muslim and brown queer people, and what Bradley Manning’s actions have done to highlight the injustices carried out against them by our government, not matter to the San Francisco Pride Committee?
While the board feels it necessary to bar Manning from the post of grand marshal, they are more then willing to embrace a slew of corporate sponsors that commit enormous levels of economic violence on working-class and poor communities and violate countless laws and regulations in their pursuit for profit. Writing in The Guardian, a publication that picked Manning as its “Person of the Year” in 2012, blogger Glenn Greenwald highlighted how corporations like AT&T, Bank of America and Wells Fargo underwrite San Francisco Pride for their own marketing purposes.
It would be nice to be able to say that the committee’s decision is surprising. Unfortunately, pride parades across the country have become increasingly corporatized and visibly less connected to political activism and social justice. Half-naked glittered men, dykes on bikes and spectacular drag queens still parade through major city streets in June, but they do so “sponsored by” massive Budweiser floats, Bank of America tents and opportunistic politicians eager to court queer money and voting power. So, it’s ironic to see Williams charge those who pushed for Manning to be chosen as grand marshal as symbolizing “a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBTQ community’s highest aspiration” when it’s her and the forces she represents who have steered Pride away from its original radical and defiant sprit.
The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 and the first Gay Freedom Day parades organized in its aftermath began as demonstrations for sexual and gender freedom and opposition to injustices everywhere. Solidarity and resistance to all forms of oppression, not obedience to corporate America and the military-industrial complex, were the spirit of the Gay Liberation Movement.
Bradley Manning’s bravery to stand in solidarity with occupied people everywhere by speaking truth to power makes him a hero who stands in the best tradition of LGBTQ history. He deserves to be honored as grand marshal. The San Francisco Pride Committee doesn’t speak for the vast majority of LGBTQ people, most of whom still believe in a basic commitment to social justice, human rights and solidarity. I’ll be at Pride this year, holding the biggest “Free Bradley Manning” sign I can find, and I hope you will be too. It’s time to take Pride back.
Read Dave Zirin’s post about Olympian and activist John Carlos’s take on NBA player Jason Collins coming out.