Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bradley Manning, Not the Pride Committee, Embodies Spirit of Stonewall

In the spring of 2004, I got an email from an acquaintance asking if I wanted to be nominated for LGBT Pride parade grand marshal.  I was surprised, because I never thought of myself as grand marshal material. In point of fact, I've never been very much in tune with "marshals" - grand or otherwise.  "Marshal" sounds too much like "martial" for my taste, and the marshals at demonstrations are always telling me to stand inside the yellow line or something.

But I agreed because, first of all, I understood that it wasn't about me, it was a way of spotlighting the work of queer folks in support of Palestinian liberation, and more broadly, of anti-assimilationist queers opposing U.S. militarism in all its manifestations.  And second, I assumed I wouldn't win.  I was already back in Palestine when I got the notification that I'd been elected.  I ended up concluding that I couldn't afford to come back for the parade, but before I did, the mayor cancelled a scheduled reception at City Hall, apparently in fear of what I might do.

The Parade Committee came in for plenty of abuse for honoring a "terrorist" but they basically shrugged it off.  It didn't hurt them at all.  What it did do was make a lot of people who had been feeling less and less included in the mainstream queer community feel a little more connected.

Unfortunately, the rampant militarism and dissent-squashing of the last ten years has not spared our community. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Parade Committee Board had voted to rescind the election of Bradley Manning as honorary grand marshal.

Manning recently admitted to leaking documents to Wikileaks including the "collateral murder" video showing an air assault on Iraqi civilians by a US helicopter crew.  The Parade co-chair cited a contention that Manning's actions had jeopardized American soldiers, which has never been proven.  We all know that the only way to protect US soldiers is to get them out of Afghanistan and all the other places where they commit atrocities like the ones Manning revealed.

Bradley Manning is openly gay and was bullied in the Army because of that.  As I discussed in a previous post, his sexual orientation and gender fluidity were exploited by the persecution and for a long time unacknowledged by his supporters, most of whom are straight.  For the last two years, though, there have been Free Bradley Manning contingents in the SFLGBT Freedom Day Parade, as well as in other Pride parades around the world.
I wrote the following letter to the Pride Committee and urge all of you, especially if you're queer, write your own (eek! looking at their website I just realized a friend of mine is board vice president now!). Send it to them at, and feel free to call them as well at (415) 864-0831.

Dear Pride Committee,

As a former Community Grand Marshal, I am outraged that you have nullified the vote of the Electoral College to name military whistleblower Bradley Manning as an honorary grand marshal.

When I was elected in 2004, in recognition of my work in Palestine, there were plenty in the community who criticized the Pride Committee for that choice. I was really proud of the way that then-Executive Director Teddy Witherington stood up to those critics. He was no supporter of my politics, and I had been deeply critical of his efforts to commercialize and restrict the Pride celebration. But he wasn’t standing up for me or my politics. What he eloquently defended was the democracy of the process and the diversity of our community. He recognized that while I might not represent his ideals, I did represent those of many queer people, who had a right to be heard and honor whom they chose.

Your cowardly decision to cave in to pressure from militaristic and authoritarian forces betrays this legacy. It betrays the best in queer history, from Harry Hay to Harvey Milk to Stephen Funk, who were all anti-war activists. It betrays the very history that the LGBT Liberation Day Parade commemorates. The Stonewall Rebellion was made by gay people who fought back against injustice, not those who acquiesced and followed orders.

The modern queer liberation movement was inspired by the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and the movement to end the Vietnam War. Bradley Manning acted in the tradition of the soldiers who revealed the atrocities at My Lai and the sexual harassment at the Tailhook Symposium.

The queer community should be – and is – proud to claim him as a symbol of our continuing struggle for all liberation.
You have no right to silence our dissent and rob us of our place in Pride.

Please reinstate Bradley Manning as a honorary grand marshal.


Kate Raphael

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gay Marriage, or why I hate the equals sign

We need to ask ourselves why same-sex marriage is building support, even among conservative Republicans, at the same time that:
  • Tennessee is about to punish poor kids who don’t do well in school by starving them.  
  • 16-year-old Kimani Gray has become the latest symbol of the non-stop assassination of young people of color by police
  • 41 states have introduced 180 laws to restrict voting rights in the last two years.  A majority of African Americans in Michigan are living under unelected leadership appointed by their governor through emergency powers.
  • William Bratton, who brought “Stop and Frisk” to New York and Los Angeles, is on the march in Oakland.  Bratton says that cities who don’t use stop and frisk are “doomed.”  In New York, over 85% of those stopped and frisked were Black or Latino, and over 90% were not breaking any laws.
  •  At least 41 of the prisoners in indefinite detention in Guantanamo are on hunger strike; some advocates say it’s more than 100.  Ten of them are being force-fed, in violation of international law.  Most of them were cleared for release years ago.  The military is refusing to give press access to the hunger strikers.
  • Obama and Kerry are poised to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, despite the major spill when a pipeline broke in Arkansas last week.

Street art from a few years ago - some things never get stale
Whatever else it is or isn’t, the marriage rights movement is not the “new civil rights movement.”  Civil rights are for everyone.  Marriage is about broadening the class of people eligible for certain privileges, most having to do with who gets your stuff when you die, and how much they get taxed for it.  Every possible benefit of marriage – health care? immigration? could be more effectively established by demanding genuine equality for everyone.

The marriage cases are also not comparable to Loving v. Virginia.  Loving decriminalized relationships between whites and non-whites.  It was more analogous to Hardwick v. Georgia than Hollingsworth v. Perry.

I don’t have anything against people getting married – hey, I’m going to a gay wedding later this month.  But what does it mean to demand equality in a country that is so fundamentally unequal?  Once you have your equality, what are you going to do with it?  Buckle down to abolish the prison state and raise the minimum wage?  Fight for teacher unions and against high-stakes testing?  Don't you see that they're just trying to buy off those of us they think are acceptable, to recruit us into the war against people who aren't? 

The Human Rights Campaign just had to apologize to one of the speakers at the rally on the Supreme Court steps last week.  Just before Jerssay Arredondo went on stage, a staff person told him not to say he was Undocumented, because it would "hurt their image" and "distract from the issue."  Might want to take that equal sign off your facebook profiles.

My friend Elana says:  “Sometimes there's a neon sign: if this is the result of your actions, you better rethink those actions.

Come on, my queer people – start rethinking!