SF Pride board denies public access to public hearing
By Rainey Reitman. May 8, 2013.
On May 7, 2013, more than 100 supporters of Bradley Manning gathered at the SF Pride Board meeting to protest the Board’s recent decision to rescind Bradley Manning as a grand marshal from the upcoming parade. The hearing was held in a building across the street from the main LGBT center on Market Street.
There were numerous obstacles to public participation in this ostensibly public meeting. The meeting was held in a small room that could only hold around 20 members of the public at a time. Cameras were banned from entering the space. Individuals who were in attendance were told to limit their comments to one minute each, and would be interrupted if they spoke longer. The Pride Board initially said that it would allow small groups to come in shifts to express concerns, but the proceedings were abruptly ended after the first group of speakers.
The majority of those who came to the event were prevented from entering the meeting room or speaking to the Board during the public comment section.
Members of the public who were in the room asked repeatedly for cameras to be allowed in to record the discussion, raising particular concerns about a camera person from Channel 2 who was denied entrance. The Pride Board’s general counsel, participating remotely via speakerphone, stated that the Board was not legally obligated to allow cameras into the room. One of the attendees requested that the Board vote to allow cameras into the room, but the Pride Board refused to respond.
After the first group of public attendees was brought in and seated, the SF Pride Board read a statement explaining that it would not allow Manning to be a marshal at this year’s event. In the statement, the Pride Board noted that “taking sides in the controversy concerning Mr. Manning’s conduct is not appropriate for the organization and falls outside its core mission.” The Board apologized for “any harsh words that may have been said about [Bradley Manning].” The statement also claimed that SF Pride could not make Manning a grand marshal because he is not a local community member and thus had received his award in the wrong grand marshal category. The Board reiterated that “SF Pride stands by his disqualifications on those unequivocal policy grounds.”
After the statement was read, members of the public were given a limited opportunity to speak. A member of the Pride Board read aloud a series of rules governing this public commentary section, noting that each individual would be allotted only one minute to speak and that personal attacks would not be tolerated. In one particularly surreal moment, the entire board said in unison that “indecorous speech” would not be tolerated.
Throughout the meeting, protesters were visible through the windows on the street below, many carrying signs in support of Bradley Manning. The protesters shouted chants including “They say court martial, we say grand marshal.” These chants were so loud that at times the SF Pride Board members had to raise their voices to be heard.
Among those who spoke during the public commentary section was famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. He began by noting that he would not have enough time to explain his position in the one-minute time slot he had been allotted. He praised the SF Pride Board for its apology about the earlier statement in which it had accused Manning of endangering the lives of American soldiers. Ellsberg stated that the implication of the first statement was “not merely defamatory but false” and that “not one member of the armed services was put in harm’s way by Bradley Manning, nor was harmed.”
Carol Queen, community grand marshal in 2001 and honorary grand marshal in 2008, began by saying that she had been confused by the discussion around grand marshals. She herself had not been consulted during the election process, though she is a former grand marshal. She praised the experience of serving as a grand marshal for Pride, calling it “one of the most honored experiences in my life.” She also cautioned the Pride board about the troublesome conservative streak now prevalent in the larger queer community, stating: “I came out in 1973 and I just want to say on an historical level that this is a more conservative community than it was when I came out.”
Another speaker was Lisa Geduldig, who organized the protests at the Pride buildings. Like many of those in attendance, Geduldig raised concerns about Pride moving away from social justice roots, observing, “The pride parade used to be more political. It was more about gay politics, gay freedom, and I think we should stay true to that… Bradley Manning represents me more than someone from the L Word does.”
Gary Virginia, who has previously served as the community grand marshal in SF Pride, said that he was “deeply embarrassed by [Pride’s] actions.” He stated that the process for electing marshals has been beset by procedural and transparency issues, and that the policies being cited to strip Manning of his position were not published anywhere and not available online.
As soon as the first group of speakers had finished their statements, they were escorted out and the SF Pride Board began a lengthy closed session. After some time behind closed doors, the Board announced it would allow more members of the press into the room. However, the meeting was then adjourned before the press could arrive. A member of the SF Pride board stated that the meeting would be rescheduled for a larger space. No timeline was provided for when that meeting would take place.