The fight over Chelsea Manning with the SF Pride Board

Aug 12, 2014

A huge contingent praising Chelsea Manning took to the streets for SF Pride in 2013.

Support for Manning reflects anti-war sentiment

Chelsea Manning, a U.S. army soldier and anti-war activist who faces life in prison for exposing war crimes committed by the U.S. military, was elected by the Pride Electoral College to be one of the grand marshals for this year’s San Francisco Pride March. In an unprecedented move, the San Francisco Pride Board of Directors rescinded her election and issued a pro-military statement attacking her courageous actions as putting U.S. military personnel in harm’s way.

The decision has angered many in the LGBT community who see the U.S. military as a homophobic, racist and sexist institution and view Manning, a 25-year-old trans woman, as a hero whose actions reflect the anti-war sentiment of the community and of the vast majority of the people in society.

As soon as news of the board’s rescinding of her election by the PEC, comprised of former grand marshals, was known, organizing to overturn the decision and reinstate Manning got underway.

On April 29, close to 100 people rallied across the street from the San Francisco LGBT Community Center demanding the board reverse their decision and respect the decision of the community representatives. The rally was the first step in a growing campaign to have the pride celebration reflect the progressive and anti-war sentiments of the 99 percent of society. The decision by the board is seen as reflection of the capitulation to corporate sponsors at the expense of the interests of the community. It is these corporations in whose interest the U.S. government has occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and has over 1,000 bases around the globe in over 130 countries.

The rally was organized by grassroots LGBT activists and featured past grand marshals who called for the reversal of the board’s decision. Daniel Ellsberg, known for releasing the Pentagon Papers that exposed the horrors of the Vietnam War, said he would be marching in Pride for Chelsea Manning. Former SF Pride Board President Joey Cain stated at the rally that he was the one who nominated Manning as grand marshal because she was a hero who helped the “larger humanity with [her] action.”

In a followup to the rally, LGBT community members attempted to attend a public meeting of the San Francisco Pride Board of Directors on May 7 to demand a reversal of its decision. More than 100 people showed up to speak during public comment. Only 15 people were allowed into the room, and cameras were banned from recording the public meeting.

In a move meant to deflect from its pro-war position, the board issued a statement citing administrative reasons for rescinding Manning’s nomination, saying she was not a local hero and that “[t]aking sides in the controversy concerning Mr. Manning’s conduct is not appropriate for the organization and falls outside its core mission.”

Community enraged

This disingenuous explanation has only enraged community members further. The May 7 meeting was suspended by the board with the promise it would hold a meeting at a venue that could accommodate a larger crowd at an undetermined time and place.

A group of former grand marshals and community activists has taken the struggle to the legal arena by filing a complaint with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission charging the SF Pride Committee Board of Directors violated the city’s non-discrimination laws. David Waggoner, one of the complainants, issued a statement, which read in part: “The Pride Board stomped on the moral convictions of the grand marshals who voted for Manning. … SF Pride a—recipient of City funding—is not allowed to discriminate against people just because they don’t like their moral support for Chelsea.”

The struggle over Manning’s election is an opportunity to show the real purpose of the U.S. military and the goals of its corporate benefactors. The role of the Pentagon is to secure the world for Wall Street and the capitalist 1 percent whose only interest is to exploit the 99 percent of the world and its resources. To that end, the military uses racism, sexism and anti-LGBT bigotry to justify its wars of destruction and occupation. The Pentagon can rescind don’t-ask-don’t-tell policies and make other changes that appear to address discrimination inside the military, but it does not change the nature of the institution.

The fight to have Chelsea Manning as one of the 2013 grand marshals at the San Francisco Pride Parade and Festival is also an opportunity to challenge the corporate stranglehold on the community celebration and return pride to its roots of resistance and fight-back.

This article was originally published before Manning’s announcement regarding her gender transition, and was edited subsequently to reflect it.