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We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re All Tied Up in Knots

Inside SF Pride’s self-inflicted grand marshal disaster.

In addition to causing a furor within the gay community, the Manning controversy has rekindled smoldering unease about the future of SF Pride.

A pro–Bradley Manning rally outside SF Pride headquarters on April 29.

If true, Plante’s claims may only inflame passions further, adding fuel to the gay community’s smoldering unease about the future of SF Pride itself. Besides being annoyed by the sloppy way the affair was handled, many Pride die-hards complain that political correctness is threatening to overtake an event long rooted in rebellion. “If you think about all the people who could be considered offensive, the list is as long as the parade itself,” says Calvin Gipson, one of at least four former SF Pride presidents opposed to Manning’s removal.

Others, including activist Gary Virginia, who served as a grand marshal last year, say that the organization’s credibility is at stake. “If Pride’s leadership is going to screw up something like this,” he says, “how can we expect them to manage a two-day celebration that draws a million people?” Virginia and others also worry about damage to SF Pride’s image and future fundraising.

Indeed, the Manning debacle couldn’t have come at a worse time for SF Pride, a mere four months after the arrival of a new leader who everyone hoped would lift the group’s profile and morale. “It’s just really a disappointment,” says Cain, who was part of the search committee that brought Plante in to work under board president Williams. “What impressed me about Earl was his broader political understanding that LGBT issues go beyond gay marriage and gays in the military and include social equality and economic justice. In short, he sounded like the kind of guy who would never let this happen.”

Although Williams caught the brunt of the early criticism, and her name alone was attached to the press release doubling back on Manning’s appointment, Plante’s role has also left SF Pride supporters scratching their heads. Although the new director reportedly took bereavement leave around the time that the controversy erupted (just before his alleged accident), a source close to Pride says that he was still conducting at least some organizational business.

In any case, many in the gay community have let it be known that they won’t be happy with anything less than Manning’s reinstatement as a grand marshal, something that Pride’s leaders have now resolutely taken off the table. “It’s incredibly disheartening and shameful,” says Rainey Reitman, cofounder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, which claims to have raised more than $1 million to cover the soldier’s legal defense.

Their frustrations will be voiced at this year’s parade by none other than Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaks of the Pentagon Papers hastened the end of the Vietnam War. The 82-year-old activist has pledged to march in Manning’s honor, and Manning supporters have vowed to wear T-shirts showing solidarity.

It could present yet another embarrassment for the organization: a Pride parade in protest of a Pride parade.


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco

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