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

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