What to take from SF Pride's bumblings and shut-outs? Maybe we're not so equal, after all
OPINION And so Pride has come to this: what began as a ragtag, radical potluck of perverts, fairies, and criminals (which is what we were in the early 1970s), celebrating the grassroots uprising that birthed the gay rights movement, is now a sleek, corporate-sponsored, multimillion dollar mega-event that refuses to engage with its own community.
From Stonewall to stonewalling. From protesting the Vietnam War and police oppression to "protecting" the military from any symbolic statement about its conduct or mismanagement during Iraq and Afghanistan. What's going on?
"I live in a bubble, I guess I was naive when it came to how badly and inappropriately the Pride Board would react," Joey Cain, the Radical Faerie elder and former Pride Community Grand Marshal who nominated Bradley Manning for the position, told me. (The full backstory of Wikileaker Manning's election to grand marshal and the resulting firestorm? Here you are.) "Of course, I knew he was controversial — I hoped to bring more attention to him in the community at large and celebrate what he did. This is San Francisco, I thought it wouldn't be a big deal."
"When I heard he'd been elected, I smiled, shrugged, and went on with my day. I had no idea it would blow up like this," said Tom Temprano, young president of the progressive Harvey Milk Democratic Club, whose monthly meeting last week became a de facto forum on Pride's rescission of Manning's election, after the Pride Board announced via Facebook that it was cancelling its scheduled public meeting and that "the discussion of that matter is closed for this year."
Indeed, Pride's own utter ineptitude in handling this situation would be hilarious if it didn't smack so much of outright disdain for the community it represents. It's as if Pride board president Lisa Williams and CEO Earl Plante, specifically hired to repair Pride's nagging budgetary and communication problems, have clumsily ripped a page from the "War on Terror," or the BP oil spill, or Too Big To Fail. Press lockouts, media blackouts, decision by fiat, a complete lack of transparency, internal investigations, contested elections, massive flip-flops, a widely known but officially unnamed staffer fired and bound by contract not to speak about the incident.... add to all that surreptitiously deleted Facebook comments and a wacky story about Plante disappearing for days throughout the whole controversy due to "hitting his head," and you pretty much have Borat in the Bush War Room.
Calm down honeys, it's just Pride. Pour yourself a Bud Light and chill.
Manning's election probably would have been celebrated by most of San Francisco in the Wikileaks heyday of late '00s, when the tech scene was still streaked with misfit visionaries and data libertarians, our mayor was given to spouting utopian pronouncements that caused national headscratching, and the anti-war protest energy of the Bush era hadn't been completely subsumed by domestic economic concerns (or whatever happened to that energy).
And maybe a majority of locals don't have any objection to Manning, a queer person who did something, being honored at Pride, if they know who Manning is. Yet to the rest of the country — and to some gay military organizations perhaps still traumatized by Don't Ask Don't Tell, who reportedly flooded Pride with calls demanding that Pride rescind the Manning election — the advances we've made in terms of assimilation and tolerance are like a fragile egg that must be protected at all costs.