Former Pride grand marshal: Manning is LGBT hero, Board action 'height of stupidity'
"I was one of the 15 former grand marshals on the electoral commission that voted for Bradley Manning," Barry Saiff, former BiNet president, told me over the phone this morning from Washington, DC, about the Bradley Manning Pride grand marshalship controversy. (As one half of a bi-national queer couple, he lives most of the year in the Phillipines with his boyfriend, who is unable to come to the United States due to discriminatory immigration laws.)
To recap: An 'electoral college' of former grand marshals elected the jailed gay (possibly now transgender) whistleblower who provided Wikileaks with a huge dump of raw classified US government info. Someone announced the choice on Friday and the media went nuts. Then the Pride executive director issued this bizarre statement repudiating the decision and rescinding the honor, to the dismay of the electoral college and a huge swath of LGBT locals. A protest at Pride HQ is planned for today, 5pm at 1841 Market, SF.)
"The list of nominees from the other board members was presented to me in March, and the instant I saw Bradley's name on there I knew it was the right choice. Pride stands for justice, freedom, and an end to discrimination, and I feel Bradley represents all of these things -- as well as complete honesty and bravery. What the Pride board did to repudiate that choice, especially in its official statement -- to not be able to make the distinction between Manning's necessary actions and way the government is denigrating our troops with these illegal and unjust wars -- is the height of stupidity.
"They [the Pride board] are colluding in the giant 'Support Our Troops' hoax that says you must never question the leadership of the military. There is actually no contradiction between supporting our troops as individuals, including our LGBT folks in the armed services, and supporting Bradley Manning and what he did.
"Specifically, if we care about our troops, we should care that they are used by our military for just ends, for missions and goals that actually increase our security, rather than decrease it, and that they are dealt with honestly. And, regardless of how you feel about the rightness or wrongness of Manning's actions, there is no question that it is both immoral and illegal under international law (the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture), that he was tortured by the USA. Bradley Manning is an American hero, and an LGBT hero. We can rightfully be proud of him. He will rightly be remembered long after his duplicitous superiors are forgotten.
"What the Pride Board should have done to respond to the critics of the nomination was to point out that they were failing to make a crucial distinction. That it is simply a point of logic that we can support our troops while being diametrically opposed to the ends to which they are used by our government. This is a crucial point for the LGBT movement to understand and promote. We should not allow ourselves to be divided by people who are committed to denying reality. We can agree to disagree on the military and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but there is no disagreement on this, it is a point of fact."
What about the charge that Manning's leaks endangered US troops?
"I say, 'Bullshit.' Of course that's what the government says. Look, Manning did not act alone. He worked with some extremely savvy media people with this -- Wikileaks, the New York Times -- he didn't just publish everything himself. Those organizations worked to edit what was put out there and protect peoples' lives. To dump this all on him and call him a traitor is a mistake."
How much of all this had to do with Manning's queerness?
"Well, all things being equal, that's what qualified him in the first place. But as I said, this fight has resonance with LGBT people in terms of freedom and justice. The fact that he's gay may play into his situation in terms of military and former persecution."
Were you ever given guidelines by the Pride board about who was qualified to be elected a grand marshall?
"Not that I know of. I don't know the bylaws off-hand, but every year, as the 'electoral college,' we've been able to elect one grand marshall and it's never been a problem. We voted in March, although there may have been a period before the final decision was tallied. [Radical faerie elder and historian Joey Cain put forth the Manning nomination.] And that was the last I heard of it until Friday. I wasn't contacted personally by [executive director] Lisa Williams or anybody else saying we had to change anything. It wasn't until Friday that I found out about any controversy -- in the news media, like everybody else. And I was outraged."