Contingent of Bradley Manning supporters who marched in San Francisco Pride 2012 (Creative Commons-licensed Photo on Flickr by SaveBradley)

At the end of last week, San Francisco Pride’s President Lisa Williams and its Board of Directors went against the vote of the “electoral college” that had decided to honor Pfc. Bradley Manning, the gay soldier who the military is prosecuting for disclosing information to WikiLeaks.

Williams announced late Friday that a “mistake” had been made and his nomination “should never have been allowed to happen.” But, according to a former Grand Marshal, who nominated Manning, earlier in the week the Board had been willing to honor him. It was not until LGBT military groups from outside of San Francisco began to bombard San Francisco Pride’s office with phone calls and emails that the Board decided Pride would not honor Manning.

“I nominated Bradley Manning to be a Grand Marshal,” Joey Cain told Firedoglake. Three others in addition to Manning were nominated. An email went out to former Grand Marshals and “we voted.”

There are “several methods” that are used to elect Grand Marshals for the parade,” Cain described. One is a “community vote.” Another involves the formation of an “electoral college” of former Grand Marshals, who nominate and elect one individual to be a Grand Marshal. The Board also appoints a certain number of Grand Marshals.

Michael Thurman of Courage to Resist, which organizes the Bradley Manning Support Network, called him soon after the vote on Tuesday, April 23. He told Cain that Joshua Smith of San Francisco Pride had contacted him and informed him Manning had been elected by the college of former Grand Marshals.

A couple hours later, Smith called back to say there was a mistake. The Board would be asking for an “audit of the votes” of the “college” of Grand Marshals. According to Thurman, Smith told him the results were looking like it could turn out different and Manning would not be Grand Marshal.

Cain thought this “sounded very suspicious.” He contacted Smith, who is a “personal friend,” and previously “served on the Board of Directors with him.” He also called Williams.

Smith called him back and, according to Cain, would not detail what had happened but took responsibility.

“This looks really bad for Pride,” Cain said to Smith. “You need to do something to rectify this.”

Cain, who is on Pride’s community advisory board, spoke with a person who acknowledged there was a problem. You cannot call a person, make them Grand Marshal and then call them back and say, due to a mistake, you are no longer going to be a Grand Marshal. Both agreed the Pride Board needed to reinstate Manning as a Grand Marshal.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 am on Tuesday night, Williams called Cain. He says that he had a conversation with her, where she said, “We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to make Bradley Manning a Grand Marshal.”

Cain was under the impression the “electoral college” had not elected Manning but the Board was going to just go ahead and make Manning a Grand Marshal because they informed the Support Network he would be honored.

On April 24, Cain went to a reception for Pride executive director, Earl Plante, and told Smith and Williams he was thankful they were doing the right thing regarding Bradley Manning, which they acknowledged. The next day he was surprised to read in BAR magazine, a local LGBT newspaper, that “Pride’s electoral college, which is made up of former grand marshals, has selected Army Private First Class Bradley Manning as its choice for grand marshal”.

According to Cain, “Both Michael and I were told by Pride that he had not been elected due to a mistake, and in fact I had been told Betty Sullivan had won the election. To add to the strangeness, Betty had been selected not by the college of former grand marshals, but by the Board as a grand marshal.”

The announcement set off a firestorm that was generated by activists from gay service member organizations outside of San Francisco. Pride capitulated to this and wrote a press release that, as Cain put it, read “like it was written by the US military prosecutor’s office.” It did not simply say Pride made a mistake but trashed Manning in a “hateful way.”

The press release claimed, “A staff person at SF Pride, acting under his own initiative, prematurely contacted Bradley Manning based on internal conversations within the SF Pride organization.” Cain said this is a lie. Smith is the “rogue staff person” and there is no way he is solely responsible. Pride would not have “sent out this list of who the Grand Marshals were,” on Wednesday, “without that having been approved by the Board.”

Since backlash against the rejection of Manning began to grow, Williams, Smith and other Board members have refused to make public comments or respond to calls from Cain.

Cain nominated Manning because he had been following the case and personally feels “he did a heroic thing.”

“It touched my heart that he was a little gay boy, who went into the military, as many gay boys do and many straight boys,” and, Cain added, “I think he realized he made one of the biggest mistakes in his life.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still going on. Manning demonstrated against the policy that prohibited gay and lesbian service members from being open about their sexual orientation while in the military. Cain also believes Manning was subjected to “torturous conditions” at Quantico because he was gay.

Asked if there has ever been a situation like this, where San Francisco Pride backed down in the face of controversy, Cain recalled when Pride had nominated Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein for the “honor” of the “Pink Brick” in 2005.

The “Pink Brick” is given to individuals or organizations that do something that really hurt the LGBT community. Feinstein said that same-sex weddings in San Francisco energized a “very conservative vote. So I think that whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon. And people aren’t ready for it.”

The same year, American philanthropist, former United States Ambassador to Luxembourg, LGBT activist and friend of Feinstein, James Hormel, was nominated to be a Grand Marshal. He was upset and Cain says he talked to Hormel, since he was considering withdrawing. He did not and Cain thinks that is because he realized that diversity of opinion should be respected.

From what Cain could tell, Sean Sala, a gay veteran and activist, was a key player involved in generating outrage that led to the Board’s capitulation.

Sala participated in a chat on Salon with Lt. Dan Choi, a gay veteran and activist who supports Manning, on Monday. He had previously said that he believes Manning is a “traitor” and that he has done nothing for the LGBT community. And, during the chat, he shared that he had been working to get the Pentagon to certify uniforms so that gay and lesbian service members could wear them in Pride parades.

“You would not believe the protocol I had to follow. How much right and left agendas tried to ‘spoil’ the March with their own personal agendas,” Sala said. “I had to keep the message pure, honor the Military. Follow protocol. For the respect of our country and the integrity and protection of military individuals participating.”

He stated unequivocally that part of his opposition to Manning’s nomination had been driven by the fact that he did not want the Pentagon to not allow LGBT service members to wear uniforms in the Pride parade.

To the contention that Manning has not done anything for the LGBT community, Cain reacted:

I got news: the gay community is part of the larger human community. So, when someone does something that exposes the US military’s crimes, that may embarrass the US, but this is stuff Americans should know and the world should know. To me that benefits gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and I don’t buy this argument that he’s done nothing for the gay community because we have this narrow definition of what that means. It’s ridiculous.

He added, “The idea that a gay person who does a heroic act that benefits humanity should not be a Grand Marshal for Pride is reprehensible.”

To those who would say that he just “happens to be gay, which is not sufficient,” as one notable LGBT veteran, Zoe Dunning, said, he agreed this is essentially the LGBT community trying to strip Manning of his gay identity.

“People are grasping at straws to try and come up with the justification for him to not be Grand Marshal.” More importantly, “Whether or not you believe he is a traitor or hero, San Francisco Pride has always been about embracing the diversity of genders, colors and opinions that are in the LGBT community. We have always done that.”

Cain said he had served on the Board for ten years and part of the strength and vision of San Francisco Pride has been not to back down or pander to one element of the community over another. But, this year, the Board embarrassed themselves. They pandered to a part of the LGBT community—military service members—and violated a system for selecting Grand Marshals that has been used for twelve years and, until now, had not been considered problematic or flawed.

In response, Cain and others in the LGBT community organized a protest against San Francisco Pride for Monday evening, April 29, outside Pride’s office. They put out a call to have him reinstated as a Grand Marshal and encouraged people to call or email the office. And, Cain and three other past presidents of Pride wrote a letter that stated the Board’s “decision dishonors the history and spirit of LGBT inclusion and diversity that this event must represent.”