More than fifty community members spoke in favor of reinstating PFC Bradley Manning as a San Francisco Pride grand marshal at a public meeting Friday in the Castro. After hearing the crowd's overwhelmingly support - as well as a plea from District 9 Supervisor David Campos-the Pride board said it would reconsider its position and make a decision within seven days.
Manning, the openly Queer soldier who released thousands of U.S. government documents through Wikileaks, is currently before a court martial at Fort Mead, Md. As previously reported, Manning's election as community grand marshal was announced in April, but the board quickly rescinded the honor, stating that it was a mistake and "even the hint of support" for Manning's actions "will not be tolerated."
More than 100 community members attempted to attend a May 7 Pride board meeting, but only a handful were allowed to enter. The board cancelled its scheduled May 14 meeting, stating that its decision was final and a public meeting to discuss the Manning nomination would not take place until after the June 30 Pride fest. Amid the outcry that followed, Sup. Campos sent a letter to the board requesting a community meeting before the celebration.
A crowd numbering approximately 150-including six members of Castro Community on Patrol and an SFPD officer to monitor security -packed the Metropolitan Community Church for Friday's forum, moderated by KQED journalist Scott Shafer.
Distrust of SF Pride was evident throughout, as board members and CEO Earl Plante made evasive or contradictory statements. Plante's opening statement that the board has "undertaken a full review of nomination process" was greeted with derision, prompting MCC pastor Victor Floyd to call for everyone to respect each other.
Fifty people-ranging from LGBT veterans to members of the Spartacus youth club and ANSWER-spoke in support of Manning, with several demanding that the board reinstate him as community grand marshal, give him an alternative honor, or move the Bradley Manning support contingent to the front of the parade.
Joey Cain, the former Pride board president who nominated Manning for community grand marshal, acknowledged that the board was "going through hell," but said they needed to be honest with the community about how events transpired.
Responding to critics who say Manning shouldn't be a marshal because his actions are unrelated to Gay issues, Cain said, "For me, absolutely the core of the LGBT movement is coming out-we are truth tellers."
Stephen Funk, a Gay veteran who went to jail after refusing to deploy to Iraq, added that he knew from experience that Manning was "getting it worse because he's Queer."
Long-time activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca was among several speakers who brought up the radical origins of Pride and how it has become conservative and corporate over the years. "[The board's decision] was a slap in the face to everything that Pride once stood for," he said to a standing ovation. "We saw ourselves as part of a movement for social and economic justice. Bradley Manning's election as grand marshal is in keeping with this fine tradition."
"This is an opportunity for us to reflect on where Pride has gone completely off the rails,"concurred Becka Shertzer. "Bradley Manning performed the most courageous act as a person, as a soldier, and as a Queer person, and that's what Pride is about for me."
Jesse Oliver Sanford and others also raised the issue of Pride Board membership, noting that it was no longer possible to apply online via the SF Pride website and implying that the board was trying to deter new members. Plante and board president Lisa Williams said they were unaware of any changes to the process.
Three speakers approved of the board's decision about the Manning nomination, including Chris Bowman of the Log Cabin Republicans, GOP Tranny blogger Katherine Kline, and Gay veteran Paul Cummings.
"I had a successful career by staying in the closet," said Cummings, a retired Navy officer with top-secret clearance. "Bradley Manning has hurt Gay people. He has reinforced the idea that Gays are a security risk."
After two hours worth of two-minute comments, Daniel Kim accused Plante of being a murderer, at which point Plante yelled back and declared the meeting over. A screaming match broke out among several attendees, and moderator Shafer had little success bringing the meeting back to order.
At that point Sup. Campos took the floor in an attempt to restore calm. He began by speaking about the flawed process and the need for the Pride board to be responsive to the community, but surprised many by expressing his individual support for Manning.
"You do not necessarily have to focus on Queer issues to be a Queer hero," Campos said. "War and peace and how our country does for policy implicates all of us, Queer people included." He ended by asking the board to find some way to honor Manning. "Failing to do something in response to overwhelming support will hurt this organization," he said to thunderous applause. "I beg you to reconsider."
Plante and Williams insisted that the board was not going to make a decision about Manning on the spot, but committed to issuing a decision within seven days after treasurer David Currie and other board members spoke in favor of the deadline.
Currie said that he had learned a lot about Bradley Manning and about Gay history, and "heard very loudly that there's a lot of support for Manning." He also noted that the board had received no pressure-and in fact, no comments one way or another-from Pride's corporate sponsors.
"You make Bradley Manning any kind of grand marshal and you're going to be heroes in this community," Cain said on a concluding note.
The SF Pride board's decision is expected on June 7. A teach-in and discussion on Bradley Manning will take place on June 8 from 4-6 pm at 2278 Market Street (former Tower Records soon to be CVS next to Café Flore).