Protest against SF Pride outside its office on May 7, right before a scheduled public meeting (Creative Commons-licensed Photo by Steve Rhodes)

A member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Supervisor David Campos, has spoken out on the ongoing scandal involving San Francisco Pride’s decision to not honor Pfc. Bradley Manning as a Grand Marshal of the Pride parade. He has urged Pride to hold a public meeting before this year’s parade and celebration on June 30 instead of after. Pride CEO Earl Plante is also outright lying or, at best, deliberately misrepresenting Pride’s actions in interviews with media.

These developments are the latest in a controversy that began back in April when the gay soldier, who disclosed information to WikiLeaks and is facing a US military prosecution, was announced as a Grand Marshal only to have Pride put out a statement retracting the award as a “mistake.”

The statement from President Lisa Williams and the Board of Directors also declared, “Even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms [sic] way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.”

In a story published yesterday, Plante is interviewed by the LGBT media organization Bay Area Reporter saying “no military folks pressured them to withdraw Manning’s honor.” That is an outright lie.

The former grand marshal who nominated Manning for Grand Marshal, Joey Cain, told Firedoglake he spoke to a Pride staff person on the day he was announced as a Grand Marshal and had his name published as a Grand Marshal in BAR. The staff person said the organization was getting “hundreds of phone calls, more calls than we’ve ever gotten since I’ve got here from people who are pissed off Bradley Manning is grand marshal.” So, as Cain said, “That is a lie that they say they got nothing from the military community.”

Plante may be correct when he says, “No one called us and no one pulled out.” To the extent that no actual branches or offices in the US military called Pride to complain, it may be true that Pride “didn’t hear from the military.” However, “military folks” were overt in their threats to go after sponsors if the organization went ahead and honored Manning.

A meeting on May 7 was to be an opportunity for the San Francisco Bay area community to share their concerns with the way Pride had handled this decision, but Pride refused to get a big enough room to accommodate more than a handful of people from the public. When over one hundred people showed up, only a few people managed to get in to the room where the meeting was held to give public comments. Dozens were left in the hallways and on the stairwell in the building where the office is located. People also remained outside on the street chanting in protest because Pride was proceeding with a meeting without having everyone, who wanted to participate, in the same room.

Plante said to BAR, ”The whole brouhaha – I as CEO take responsibility for it,” and, “Pride is all about integrity, transparency, and openness. We attempted to have a meeting and unfortunately a few bad apples took over the meeting.”

According to Gary Virginia, a former grand marshal who voted for Manning and was at the May 7 meeting, this is a gross misrepresentation. “Bad apples” did not cause the meeting to be canceled. He said he came into the meeting ten minutes after it was to start and informed them people were locked outside and asked why they had started the meeting without waiting for members of the public. Another individual, Starchild, asked why the Board was denying media with cameras access to the meeting. They both interrupted the meeting, but the interruptions were to protest how Pride was improperly running the meeting.

There also was a hired security guard from Yojimbo, who could have been directed to remove anybody from the meeting at any time. The Board did not have him remove anyone, who was disrupting the meeting, so the meeting could not possibly have been shut down because of a “few bad apples.” In fact, it is much more likely that the Board realized they created a situation and could not continue the meeting and would have to reschedule it because they had erred.

Both Cain and Virginia point out there is an LGBT community center with large rooms right across the street from the building where Pride has its office. In the days before the meeting, Pride could have reserved a large room that could have accommodated the 125 or so people, who attended the meeting.

On May 12, this statement went up on the organization’s Facebook page:

…SF Pride’s decision concerning the election process of Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal being consistent with SF Pride’s long standing Grand Marshal election policy is firm. Thus, the discussion of that matter is closed for this year.

A meeting in a larger venue after the 2013 Celebration and Parade will allow people from all sides of that issue and others to fully air and hear one another’s viewpoints, without jeopardizing the production of this year’s event and the safety and security of the attendees. We ask everyone in the community to come together in Pride this June, recognizing that we can embrace difference without violence and hate… [emphasis added]

That sparked more outrage. Numerous people posted comments and then found they were being censored or hidden by someone in charge of the Facebook page. Many of the comments later reappeared on the post, but, if they were heavily critical of Pride, they disappeared for a period of time so the comments could be vetted and that fueled even more disgust with the organization.

Plante, in his interview with BAR, “decried ‘vile’ comments directed at Williams on various social media sites, calling it ‘reprehensible.’” He stated, “I, as CEO, will not tolerate Lisa or anyone on our Board being in harm’s way,” and, “We can’t have a dialogue with people engaged in violent attacks.” The next meeting would be at a “larger venue” and would “include security.”

Plante is speaking a language that has been used against groups and organizations engaged in struggle or activism in US history. His talk about vile hate smears and allegations of “violent attacks,” which he has no evidence to back up, is all designed to marginalize people in the LGBT community upset with the organization.

Pride is “using classic authoritarian statist tactics,” Cain said. “They’re trying to make us look violent. They are trying to make us look hateful and that is the spin they are trying to pull off.”

It is not as if there is no justification for being upset. On top of all that has been done thus far, this week they did not hold a meeting that was supposed to take place on May 14. It is in their bylaws that every second Tuesday they hold their monthly meeting.

“To postpone until after Pride, the primary time when you want to meet with the constituents of your organization,” Virginia said, is “such an insult. It’s basically saying we’re not going to communicate to you and we don’t want to hear from you.”

If one reads the Bay Area Reporter story, it is as if they are having tremendous difficulty finding a location for the meeting. It could be held at the LGBT community center. Again, that is right across the street from the office. So, there is much more going on here than logistical problems. The cowardice of board members is getting in the way of management.

Virginia expressed his disgust with how the board “railroaded through a new ballot to the electoral college” that elects Grand Marshals. The deadline is Thursday, May 16. The votes will help elect a Grand Marshal to take the place of Manning.

“I’m not voting in the election. The election is a fraud,” according to Virginia. “The election was done exactly as it has been done in past years and because they didn’t like the winner and they chose to politicize a public process. It’s one thing to say, ‘We counted the votes wrong. We did an audit,’ and lay out the numbers and explain who the winner was, but they never did that. They have yet to release the data of how many votes were cast and who got the highest number of votes and who got the second highest number of votes.”

The Pride organization’s legitimacy is truly at stake. Cain, who was a Pride president for four years, argued the organization has been plagued by incompetency and arrogance over the past three years. The board ran up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Another CEO was brought in, and he started to rebuild credibility with sponsors and reduce the debt. But, what did the organization do? They replaced him.

“When I was on the Pride board, I was with a really strong group of people, a solid group of people who absolutely believed in transparency [and] didn’t just mouth the words like Earl Plante is doing,” Cain stated. “We actually allowed our members to come in and look at our books. We talked to people. We engaged people. We didn’t barricade ourselves behind a door in a boardroom. We went out into the community and talked to people, exactly what Earl Plante and Lisa Williams are not doing.”

Now, Plante claims there will be a meeting before the Pride Celebration & Parade because Supervisor Campos has made an issue out of it. Among those upset with Pride, there is skepticism. The board has been utterly craven so far. They have engaged in levels of deceit that few thought possible. They have been a prime example of how the liberal class is dying in this country. So, who knows if they will hold a meeting.

Regardless, if they want to remedy the situation, the first thing they can do is reinstate Manning as Grand Marshal, and they know that is the right thing to do. The Board does not want to do that, which is why they have done everything they can to avoid further addressing this controversy before the parade and celebration happens at the end of June 30.