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Backlash, Protests Follow 'Hateful' U-Turn of Bradley Manning Gay Pride Honor

'They say court martial!—We say Grand Marshal!' exclaim supporters of anti-war whisteblower

- Jon Queally, staff writer

'Pentagon Papers' whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was among those protesting at the SF Pride headquarters on Monday. (Photo: Michael Petrelis)Governing officials of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade are facing a severe backlash after u-turning on their decision to make embattled military whistleblower Bradley Manning an honorary Grand Marshal at the city's well-attended and much celebrated LGBT event in June.

On Monday night, protesters who accused SF Pride, which organizes the parade, of "turning its back on activism and dissent" gathered outside the group's headquarters in San Francisco to protest the decision. Among the speakers at the protest was Daniel Ellsberg, who famously released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times during the Vietnam War.

In the crowd, protesters shouted: "They say court martial!—We say Grand Marshal!"

The controversy started last week when Manning was nominated by a group of former Grand Marshals, who form a sort of 'electoral college' for new marshals. But after initially accepting the nomination, the Board of Directors unceremoniously—and critics say "hatefully"—rescinded the honor on Friday following criticism from constituents hostile to Manning's anti-war leanings.

“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 Monday night's protest. “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.”

Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald weighed in on the issue over the weekend, calling the press release put out by SF Pride's board president Lisa L. Williams announcing the rescinded honor "a cowardly, imperious statement" that had to "be read to be believed."

And Joe Eskenazi, writing at the Advocate, says the Manning controversy "epitomizes Pride's awkward paradox" in recent years. SF Pride's decision, he writes, reeked of a half-assed attempt to be controversial countered too late by an obsequious kowtow to the festival's corporate backers," he writes. "But instead of canceling each other out, these moves formed an interference wave and backfired even bigger."

Following an in-depth interview with Joey Cain, a former Grand Marshall of the parade who actually nominated Manning in the first place, FireDogLake's Kevin Gosztola describes the back and forth between Board members of the parade and those supporting Manning's nomination and appointment. Gostzola reports:

The announcement set off a firestorm that was generated by activists from gay service member organizations outside of San Francisco. SF Pride capitulated to this and wrote a press release that, as Cain put it, read “like it was written by the US military prosecutor’s office.” It did not simply say Pride made a mistake but trashed Manning in a “hateful way.”

The press release claimed, “A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization.” Cain said this is a lie. Smith is the “rogue staff person” and there is no way he is solely responsible. Pride would not have “sent out this list of who the Grand Marshals were,” on Wednesday, “without that having been approved by the Board.”

Since backlash against the rejection of Manning began to grow, Williams, Smith and other Board members have refused to make public comments or respond to calls from Cain.

Cain nominated Manning because he had been following the case and personally feels “he did a heroic thing.”

Both Greenwald and Eskenazi point to the parade's growing ties to corporate and mainstream interests that make the board's decision more understandable, but also more deplorable.

Though it once had "humble roots" when it was "Gay Freedom Day," writes the parade is "now a city institution—complete with corporate sponsors and built-in expectations of doling out hefty sums of money to other city nonprofits while drawing millions of free-spending visitors."

And as Greenwald concludes in his article:

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation's largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation's most powerful political officials. That's how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they'll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation's most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

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