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How San Francisco Pride Is Perpetuating a Scandal by Not Reinstating Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal

Community members & Bradley Manning supporters attempt to access SF Pride’s monthly meeting being held on the fourth floor of this building

The San Francisco Pride Committee held a meeting on Tuesday night. It was their monthly meeting and the Board of Directors was well aware that there would be individuals from the community that would be attending to express their outrage at the Board’s decision to not allow Pfc. Bradley Manning to be honored as a Grand Marshal at this year’s Pride parade. However, the meeting was held in a small conference room and members of the public and press were kept out of the meeting.

Chief Operating Officer Earl Plante told KTVU that the meeting was held to “really listen to the community, share their concerns and try to move forward in a proactive way.” That is public relations gobbledygook. He also alleged that since the decision “Threats have been made to board members and volunteers. That was why access to the meeting was limited.”

No evidence to substantiate this allegation has been made public by Pride. Nobody attending the meeting was informed by the Pride Board of any details related to “threats” and how the Board was concerned for their safety. So Plante’s statement is disingenuous and malevolent, as it functions as a ploy to destroy the credibility of supporters protesting the decision.

I spoke with four individuals, who were at the meeting. There are also accounts from the meeting online from Rainey Reitman, Bradley Manning Support Network Steering Committee member; Michael Petrelis, a gay peace and social justice activist; Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a writer, singer, songwriter and activist. What follows is a comprehensive and unabridged presentation of what happened at the meeting and how San Francisco Pride continues to make this controversy worse.

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What Led Up to the Scheduled Monthly Meeting

On April 25, Bay Area Reporter, a local LGBT newspaper, announced, “Pride’s electoral college, which is made up of former grand marshals, has selected Army Private First Class Bradley Manning as its choice for grand marshal.” That set off a backlash amongst the more militaristic LGBT groups who did not want to see San Francisco Pride honor Manning because they believe he is a “traitor.” These military groups from outside of San Francisco bombarded San Francisco Pride’s office with phone calls and emails that the Board decided, on April 26, that Pride would not honor Manning.

SF Pride President Lisa Williams and the Board of Directors put out a statement that went beyond explaining why the Board had made a “mistake” in announcing Manning would be honored. They were outright slanderous. A portion of the statement read, “Even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms [sic] 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.”

A former grand marshal serving on the electoral college, Joey Cain, who nominated Manning, revealed a timeline of events, where on Tuesday, April 23, the Bradley Manning Support Network was informed Manning was going to be a Grand Marshal, but, hours later, the person that had called, Joshua Smith, called again to inform he had not won and there would be an “audit” of the vote and he probably would lose. Cain found this to be suspicious. He spoke with Williams and shared concerns. According to Cain, Williams told him they were going to do the right thing and reinstate Manning.

The statement SF Pride put out on Friday indicated, “A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization.” This suggested there was a “rogue staff person,” who was solely responsible for an “error.” That could not have been true because, as Cain pointed out, Pride would not have “sent out this list of who the Grand Marshals were without that having been approved by the Board.”

There was a demonstration outside the Pride office on Monday, April 29. One of the organizers, gay peace and social justice activist Michael Petrelis, declared, “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,” and, “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.”

More significantly, commander John Caldera of the Bob Basker Post 315 of the American Legion voted to “call for the resignation” of Williams over the decision to reject Manning. According to Gary Virginia, a former Grand Marshal and member of the “electoral college” who voted for Manning, Williams scheduled a meeting in the Pride office with Caldera because they manage a grand stand at the parade. Williams would not answer questions but was there to listen to what Caldera had to say. Caldera had two straight veterans accompany him and Virginia was in the meeting as well.

Virginia asked when the next Pride board meeting would be. Williams told him it would be Tuesday, May 7, in the room where they were sitting, and there would be a section of the meeting for public comments. He informed Williams there would be many in the community interested and they should get a larger space for the meeting. And, after the meeting, he wrote to Pride to, again, suggest that they plan to hold the meeting in a larger space to accommodate everyone interested in participating.

Virginia claims that Chief Operating Officer Earl Plante replied to him that it was too short of a notice to change where the meeting would be held. He mentioned the capacity of the room would not be big enough for the meeting and there is an LGBT community center across the street.

This refusal to hold the meeting in a larger space set the stage for a scene that would make it next to impossible to conduct a formal meeting. It was all due to Pride’s stubbornness in the face of calls from the community to allow the public to share their views on what had happened in the past weeks with the Board.

The Board Puts Out a Statement With New Excuses for Making the Decision Hours Before the Meeting

A statement from San Francisco Pride appeared on Facebook a within hours of the meeting, indicating the committee would be hearing from the community but it would not matter what they said. They were standing behind the decision to not have Pride honor Manning. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."