Pride board holds listening session on military recruiters
by James Patterson
Members of the board overseeing San Francisco's Pride parade discussed the issue of military recruiters at the festival, but no decision was made following a community listening session in the Castro.
About 30 people attended the November 19 forum at Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco and they gave board members an earful.
The meeting's purpose was to hear community reaction to recruiters who were at this year's festival so that the board can determine whether recruiters would be allowed at Pride 2014.
San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board member Joey Cain said the topic would be discussed at SF Pride's December 3 meeting..
Representatives from the Transgender Law Center and various local veterans groups did not attend. Part of the controversy over recruiters at this year's Pride festival included the fact that the military continues to discriminate against openly transgender service members. Some attendees were disappointed by TLC's absence while others, who had been discharged from the military for being gay (before the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"), said they did not need TLC to tell them about discrimination.
Cain explained that military recruiters had contacted San Francisco Pride in late March interested in booth space at the Pride festival. Many members had thought former Pride CEO Earl Plante invited recruiters after Pride rescinded a grand marshal honor to transgender Army Private Chelsea Manning and were surprised to learn recruiters had contacted Plante.
Cain, who moderated the forum, told members it was a listening session and not a decision meeting. He said a decision would be made later. Board members listened as community members, including a few veterans, took turns voicing their opinions. Some supported recruiters while others strongly opposed them.
Among those supporting recruiters at Pride was retired Tampa, Florida, radio reporter Bob Hughes, who identifies as gay. The Castro resident said the military offered opportunities to gay youth since DADT was repealed.
Hughes, who also identifies as pacifist, said for the military's anti-gay culture to change "good people," referring to gay youth, were needed to replace "bad people," those who long opposed gays in the military. He reminded the audience that after the 1906 earthquake the army and navy acted quickly to help San Francisco and its residents recover.
Berkeley lesbian Xan Joi, who said she is "womanist, feminist, and grandmother," said she was "heartbroken" that military recruiters attended Pride because "the military teaches youth to kill."
Joi said she was still angry the Pride board had "turned its back on [Chelsea] Manning" and the way San Francisco Pride "dissed her was unconscionable."
Manning was convicted this year of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks and is serving a 30-year prison sentence.
Several other attendees also said they were still angry over the Manning controversy. One woman said she would "never forget that Pride wouldn't honor Chelsea Manning."
Board member John Caldera, a veteran, said, "San Francisco has a reputation for honoring the warrior and not the war." He became emotional when talking about military suicides and sexual assaults and said he worries about his niece who is in the National Guard.
At end of comments, Cain suggested another community forum on recruiters and said he would try again to get TLC and veterans groups to attend.
Pride board President Gary Virginia said that there was precedent for excluding military recruiters and mentioned that Pride excludes tobacco companies from the event. That was good news to Joi.
"I felt I got my message across" to SF Pride, Joi said. If military recruiters return to Pride next year she and her friends will "absolutely organize and protest" at their booth.
"It was a great community forum," Cain said as he was leaving the church. He said he felt minds had changed as a result of the comments. "It was encouraging to see members talking about a potentially contentious issue," he said.