Large turnout of Manning supporters expected at Pride
by James Patterson
The state of the LGBT community, on the eve of Pride Month, is strong, proud, and ready to celebrate 38 days from now. Many marchers will not only be celebrating their sexuality, relationships and, with the U.S. Supreme Court's help, possibly marriage equality, but a large number are expected to march in support of imprisoned gay Army private first class Bradley Manning.
Although the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board rescinded Manning's grand marshal honor late last month, many of his supporters continue to view him as a community grand marshal. At a recent mock Pride board meeting, local activists who were present unanimously voted to reinstate grand marshal status on Manning, the whistle-blower who leaked 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks. He has confessed to some of the charges against him and is awaiting a court-martial on the others.
In an unscientific polling of individuals at events around the Castro in recent days, the b-word, as in boycott, was mentioned, but it was not a popular idea, even from some who previously endorsed it.
In a letter to the editor of the Bay Area Reporter last week, San Francisco resident Loren P. Meissner Jr. announced a Facebook page titled "Boycott SF Pride 2013 unless Bradley Manning is made Grand Marshal." At press time, the page had only 29 Likes and the majority of the postings on the page urged against a boycott.
Meissner told the B.A.R. that his call for a boycott of Pride's sponsors was solely as an individual. There appeared to be no community support for such a drastic measure.
Craig Scott authored two postings on Meissner's page. On May 12, he wrote, "We ought to boycott Pride's sponsors." On May 13, he posted, "No boycott, instead a massive demonstration."
On May 8, former Pride board president and past grand marshal Joey Cain, 58, responded to Meissner's boycott and posted, "I have to disagree with boycotting the SF Pride Parade and Celebration. Not being there will say nothing. Showing up and marching in the Bradley Manning contingent will send a major message to both the SF Pride board and all of America."
By phone, Cain said among his large community of contacts the boycott was not "catching on." He said no one has joined it and he sees no community interest in any boycotts.
Cain went on to say he knew of people who had not marched in five years who were energized to march this year in support of Manning. He said he expects a much larger Manning contingent this year than in 2012.
Cain could not estimate how large the contingent would be this year, but he said the contingent's application submitted to SF Pride, before the Manning controversy, was for 100 people. He said he advised the contingent, with which he will march, to re-submit the application for as many as 500 marchers.
East Bay resident and LGBT ally Michael Thurman, an organizer for the Bradley Manning Support Network, said the group had 150 marchers last year. He confirmed he was working to re-submit their application to increase the number of marchers to 500.
Thurman, 25, said he had worked on the Manning Pride contingent for the past three years, and, if the turnout is as expected, it would be a record for them in San Francisco and possibly a record for any Pride parade in the nation.
The Air Force veteran said SF Pride would have to approve the revised application. He did not know how long the approval process would take. Local marchers will be joined from other Manning supporters from around the state, he said. He could not say, at this time, if any VIPs, other than Pentagon papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, planned to join the Manning contingent.
In the Castro, Pride was very much on the minds of people.
Hayes Valley resident Malcom Gregory Scott, 51 (no relation to Craig Scott), said he was disappointed Manning would not be a grand marshal.
Scott, a U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as queer, said Pride should celebrate the diversity and pluralism of the community. He said he is undecided about marching in the parade.
San Franciscan Ruben Salas, 51, said he was undecided on which group or float he would march with. A client service professional with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Salas said he was unaware of the Manning controversy.
"News is too depressing," he said, adding that he doesn't follow it.
Theater technician Baz Wenger, 27, who identifies as transgender, said he was "vaguely familiar" with the Manning controversy. The East Bay resident said Manning was not a factor in his decision to march in the parade.
Ghirardelli Market events director Nick Cattaneo, 34 and gay, said he had not yet made his plans for Pride. The Manning controversy will not affect his decision, he said, because he was "unaware of it."
San Francisco State University history major Woody Miller, 57, said he planned to "march for Bradley Manning." A San Francisco resident since 1983, Miller said, "as far as I am concerned Bradley Manning is grand marshal."
Miller, a queer nudist, said he had heard people mention a Pride boycott and he said it was "not a good idea." He said it was a better idea for people to march and express their support for Manning. He said he would likely carry a Manning support sign as he marched in the parade.
The most high profile community figure to announce his boycott of Pride was Gary Virginia, a 2012 community grand marshal. He recently reversed himself and now encourages Manning supporters to "participate in spades."
Stephen Dorsey, 52, a customer service professional and San Francisco Imperial Court Emperor 38, said he would work as a volunteer at Pride. The spirit of the Imperial Court family and their support as volunteers at SF Pride has not been affected by the Manning controversy, he said. He estimated as many as 40 Imperial Court members will volunteer at Pride.
Lisa Geduldig, an early critic of the Pride board's decision to rescind the Manning selection and an organizer of rallies to alert the community on the matter, said she had originally planned to be out of town during Pride. She said in an email she changed her plans "to stay and be a part of this historic day."
Geduldig said she would march with the Bradley Manning Support Network with Ellsberg and Veterans for Peace.
"I think what we are looking at with the support and visibility that Bradley Manning has gotten over the past two weeks and will be getting both through the Bradley Manning Support Network contingent and presence throughout other contingents on June 30 is representative of bringing politics back into Pride," she said.
Mario Benfield, a longtime Pride supporter and commander of the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion, supported the Pride board's decision on Manning.
In a statement, Benfield, who is gay, said that the post "would prefer not to get involved in the guilt or innocence of PFC Bradley Manning."
"The post believes that a grand marshal of the SF Pride parade should be a role model in the SF community," the post's statement read. "The grand marshal should be a non-politician whose virtues and character are without question, and a person to whom the younger generation is encouraged to admire and emulate. Post 448 does not believe that PFC Bradley Manning meets these criteria."