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Shame, Resentment And San Francisco Pride

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By now you’re probably aware of SF Pride’s controversial decision to rescind the selection of Bradley Manning as one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade. The 42nd anniversary of the San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade’s new agey theme “Embrace, Encourage, Empower,” might more appropriately have been dubbed “Divide, Discourage, Dictate.”

Naturally Manning wouldn’t be able to march in any parade. Not while he’s being aggressively prosecuted and being subjected to harsh interrogation by the Obama Administration for his role in the WikiLeaks saga that exposed thousands of classified documents and exposed war criminal behavior by the military. He was going to be proudly represented by Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

According to SF Pride, “San Francisco Pride’s Grand Marshals are the public emissaries of Pride. They represent a mix of individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. With the help of community input, Pride selects these groups and individuals as Grand Marshals in order to honor the work they have put into furthering the causes of LGBT people.”

No sooner had SF Pride notified Manning representatives, and submitted a press release to San Francisco’s local rag, Bay Area Reporter, the highly predictable backlash was swift and ferocious.

Of course San Francisco gays would nominate a traitor like Bradley Manning. Well, sort of traitor. He hasn’t actually been found guilty of that yet, but we all know one when we see one, right? Like pornography. Surely we didn’t fight Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all these years for a right to sit at the military table as equals only to have a damn tranny fuck it all up by revealing war crimes. Sure, you can Tell now. But Don’t Snitch, Bitch is the new DADT.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L. Williams issued a statement that would be laughable were it not so revealing about San Francisco politics. Williams’ dictatorial diatribe makes one wonder if this organization has ever heard of public relations, let alone whether they’re competent enough to mitigate a public relations disaster. Hello flames, here’s some fuel.

Bradley Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, 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.

Without dissecting each ridiculous assertion in that paragraph alone, Ms. Williams leaves no doubt as to where she stands on the issue, but for whom does she speak? The “won’t be tolerated” language that she ascribes to the “leadership” at San Francisco Pride begs the question who on earth is running things at the organization, and more importantly, what will they tolerate?

It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.

While there are indeed plenty of servicemembers and civilians, gay and straight who view Manning as a traitor, there are also plenty for whom the issue isn’t as clear cut. However, Williams was quoting verbatim OutServe-SLDN’s co-chairman Josh Seefried, who had tweeted “@SFPride’s decision to choose Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal is a direct insult to the thousands of LGBT servicemembers and vets. #nohero”

Not necessarily so. Veterans of Post 315 which is a “Community Partner” of SF Pride, held an emergency meeting on Sunday evening, at which members unanimously voted to call for the resignation of Ms. Williams for “conduct which has brought shame and disgrace to membership of SF Pride as well as the LGBT community of the City of San Francisco.”  They also demanded that Manning be reinstated as a San Francisco Honorary Grand Marshal.

Then there were those who thought that SF Pride operated in a more democratic manner.

Gary Virginia, SF Pride’s Grand Marshal for 2012, is the man who would be essentially handing the mantle to Bradley Manning. This puts him in the elite group that constitutes the College of Former Grand Marshals. And although their vote is anonymous, Mr. Virginia acknowledged to TNCRM that he was one of the 15 votes in favor of Bradley Manning.

For Mr. Virginia, the entire issue raises important issues about SF Pride’s credibility with the community. He noted that former Grand Marshals represent decades of volunteers who have devoted extraordinary amounts of time to the community. None of the communications they received from SF Pride ever made reference to their selections requiring the approval of the Board at SF Pride.

SF Pride’s Joshua Smith is the designated fall guy for the “mistake” although he hasn’t – or rather can’t – specify whether the mistake was in the count itself (in which case, who actually won if not Bradley Manning?); whether notification to the Manning representatives regarding his selection was premature; or whether, much like the College of Former Grand Marshals, the community, and pretty much everyone else, he didn’t realize the vote was subject to Board approval.

“That was an error, and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride,” SF Pride’s Williams stated in her hastily released, clearly unvetted statement.

“As 2012 PRIDE Community Grand Marshal and part of the electoral college I nominated and voted for BeBe Sweetbriar, not Bradley Manning. Manning has done didly [sic] squat for the LGBT community compared to BeBe,” tweeted Roma Roma, one of the more prominent Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

“If it ever crossed your mind that the Sisters have become conservative shills for Gay Inc.,” wrote Craig Scott on Facebook in response.

Specifically, what these events have revealed is a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBT community’s highest aspirations as grand marshals for SF Pride. This is a systemic failure that now has become apparent and will be rectified. In point of fact, less than 15 people actually cast votes for Bradley Manning.

And so, with even fewer than 15 members, the Board revealed even deeper systemic failures, and unilaterally decided who represents the LGBT community’s highest aspirations. Sponsors to get you so fucked out of your bracket you can forget about politics and wallow in an alcoholic haze of self-loathing, shopping and addiction while anti-nudity monitors shove you out of plazas so you can piss your pants on the streets. Drenched in decency, waving your little rainbow trinkets at the big flag you’re only allowed to look at. Absolut Obedience. Pride indeed.

Late Monday afternoon, an estimated 200 people marched on SF Pride’s offices, blowing whistles to celebrate whistle blowing and chanting, “They say Court Martial, We Say Grand Marshall.” A diverse roster of speakers included Daniel Ellsberg, who announced he would be marching in his “first LGBTQ Pride Parade” as part of the Bradley Manning contingent in the June parade.

San Francisco is reaching a boiling point. The Manning issue has reopened wounds and has revealed deep divisions that have been festering in the city’s gay community for years, including more recently Supervisor Scott Wiener’s nudity ban. And his threat to axe the budget of the Human Rights Commission for daring to interfere with his territory over control disputes relating to the controversial rainbow flag that flies above the Castro. And getting the DA’s office to prosecute an activist who published a photograph of him brushing his teeth in a City Hall restroom. And treating the economically disadvantaged in his district with derision. A towering, shoulder-chipped Marie Antoinette with power over city budgets and purse strings. Let them eat shit.

His territory? Won’t Be Tolerated? Are you sensing a familiar pattern here?

The Bradley Manning issue is complex. A growing chorus of imperialist apologists like James Kirchick  is pushing this ridiculous narrative that support for Manning as a whistleblower is the same as buying into the long-since-proved-false notion that gays and lesbians are unfit to serve. The logic itself defies logic, but there’s that school of thought, and it’s growing louder. We don’t think all gays are shrill mouthpieces that sound like Donald Rumsfeld just because Kirchick does.

More measured responses question whether Manning is deserving of the hero status and question his motives, while still acknowledging the harsh mistreatment he is alleged to be suffering, and premature conviction as traitor by President Obama himself.

Zoe Dunning, the first woman to come out under Don’t As, Don’t Tell, and who does not support Manning’s selection, has been maligned on Facebook, and vilified and mocked for articulating as much. She wrote that some people have a “hard time separating their anger at the government/military from anger at the service members they see complicit in the execution of the civilian leadership’s orders. That is why they revere Manning so much because he is like the poster child of Occupy the Military. If you dare disagree with them about Manning, you are an idiot, a fascist and many other names I have been called online. What they don’t get is I too disagree with the invasion of Iraq and want our troops home now from Afghanistan.”

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those for whom there is more to being gay than gay marriage and the repeal of DADT, and are beginning to tire of the inability of Gay, Inc. to focus on anything else. And for whom the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, enhanced interrogation, and the fighting of preemptive wars under false pretenses are too much to stomach, despite pledges of integrity made by well meaning gay and lesbian servicemembers genuinely fighting for freedom. While the slaughter and persecution of gays around the globe goes on unabated, unnoticed and unattended.

“Our message to SF Pride is that they should make Manning a Grand Marshal of this year’s Pride March and Celebration because of his brave act of whistleblowing against the military industrial complex,” said Michael Petrelis, one of the organizers of the protest on Monday, articulating what many are feeling if the multitude of posts on Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by. “We are fed up with marriage and military concerns sucking the oxygen out of what used to be a queer movement and Pride March and Celebration about social justice for queers,” Petrelis added.

Longtime political activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca voiced similar sentiments over Williams’ statement:

“Manning didn’t put the lives of military personnel in harm’s way, those who chose to send them overseas did, including former President George W. Bush and current members of Congress. Local politicos, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi, have voted time and again to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their actions put military personnel, gay and straight, in ‘harm’s way’ every single day of the week. Why doesn’t Pride ban them from ever participating in the parade?”

Avicolli Mecca also voiced frustration over SF Pride’s decision to placate sponsors and politicians rather than follow in the tradition of Prides past: “It’s obvious that Pride has no sense of history. The queer community has a tradition of supporting those who used radical means to effect social change. In the early 70s, queer organizations backed Black Panther members charged with all sorts of things by the U.S. government. In the late 70s, Susan Saxe, a lesbian antiwar activist accused of taking part in a bank holdup in Boston in which a police officer was killed, was given tremendous support by the LGBT community, especially the lesbian community.”

In a scathing indictment for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald exposes some of the sponsors of this year’s Pride, and ripped Williams’ statement with the derision it deserves.

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. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveyors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

What’s at stake here is the credibility of SF Pride’s entire voting process and the manner in which they deal with this debacle will to a large extent determine what happens next. Already there is talk of disrupting the parade. What is needed most now is a leader with the political savvy to help the beleaguered SF Pride save face and an impassioned but bitterly divided community reach some kind of consensus while the world watches. Someone who isn’t Scott Wiener.

As far as Mr. Virginia is concerned, the honor of the selection will be greatly diminished if people are left with the impression that the selection process is rigged and determined by the political whims of the Board. And political whims there are aplenty.

SF Pride has not always dealt with issues like this in a particularly smart way.

Earlier this month, SF Pride issued a warning about the city’s ban on nudity following Scott Wiener’s clamp down on “indecency” and obsession with turning San Francisco’s once colorful Castro into a post-Giuliani Times Square, where G-rated window displays beckon happily married, fully clothed clones. Despite exclusions that were written into the legislation that specifically excluded events like Pride.

When Mitch Hightower, one of the plaintiffs fighting Wiener’s nudity ban voiced outrage at SF Pride’s inaccurate warning and ready embrace of the anti-nudity language, SF Pride responded by quietly replacing the PDF on their website without ever acknowledging they had made the error in the first place. Not before Hightower captured screen grabs to counter the denial that did indeed follow.

Perhaps someone at SF Pride was disciplined. Or reprogrammed. Or whatever nefarious and frankly chilling methods of remorse SF Pride demands of anyone who dares to even hint at their incompetence. Or stray from the alcohol infused gay assimilation programming.

This time however, with the whole world watching, it’s not going to be as easy to disappear documents. Or people. Or previous statements.

And while we have yet to smell the toxic vomit from the likes of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Matt Barber and all the other self-loathing, attention-whoring, homo-obsessed nutcases on the right, there’s no doubt they’ll be arrogant enough to think they should weigh in on this, and with no sense of irony or nuance, will naturally side with SF Pride. They tend to like gays when they fall in line. Or wear pink triangles. Or are too fucked up to know their names, but can still whip out gay wallets and spend their dollars on rainbow colored crap to keep the whole thing chugging along.

And when SF Pride and corporate media are all on the same page, maybe it’s time to rethink the whole pride sham once and for all, and recognize it for the shameful embarrassment it has been for way too long. There’s only so much makeup you can slap on a pig. The desperate kowtowing to sit as equals at a table on which the food is stale and rotten.

Regardless of what you think of Bradley Manning, the controversial policies that govern the selection process of Grand Marshals needs to be made public to quell the controversy, which doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. How are the votes counted? By whom? What systems of checks and balances are in place? Or is the whole show already over, bar the shouting?

Pity SF Pride doesn’t have someone like Bradley Manning inside to leak them. Stay tuned.

Image, top: Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who announced he would attend his first Pride March in June when he marches with the Bradley Manning contingent, speaks to protestors gathered outside SF Pride’s offices on Monday. Photo courtesy Michael Petrelis.

 

Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.

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