In April, San Francisco Pride announced the selection of Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning as this year’s parade grand marshal. The Army private, who is currently serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, is now living as a female behind bars and is considered a catalyst for ending the Iraq War.
Local LGBT activists applauded S.F. Pride for the contentious selection, seen as a radical step for an organization widely criticized for being firmly beholden to commercial interests.
Days later, however, then-Pride President Lisa Williams retracted the selection with a news release. Williams denounced Manning’s actions as endangering the lives of men and women in uniform, a fabrication that had been extensively debunked by military officials.
Some believed the retraction only solidified the perception of the S.F. Pride organization as “spineless,” “cowardly” and ethically ambiguous for still accepting money from corporations such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, both sued by the U.S. government for alleged mortgage fraud.
Protests followed. Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, and activist Lt. Dan Choi expressed their support of honoring Manning, and a formal complaint was filed to the Human Rights Commission. In addition, a second news release was sent out by Pride, clarifying that the retraction stemmed from the fact that Manning was not a Bay Area community member.
In June, more than 1,000 people marched on behalf of Manning in the parade; ironically, they were the largest noncorporate entity.
Concerns and community mistrust still loomed over San Francisco Pride’s evident lack of transparency and the different stories regarding Manning’s retraction. Did corporate sponsors threaten to back out of Pride if the honor was upheld?
Aiming to be a harbinger of a new era within the organization, a group of seven accountability candidates vied for open spots on the S.F. Pride board of directors. Only one of them, Jesse Oliver Sanford, was reportedly threatened by then-Pride CEO Earl Plante to back out. Plante was forced to resign, Williams became acting CEO and Davace Chin replaced her as president.
In the election meeting Sept. 15, six of the seven new accountability candidates, including Sanford, received enough votes, but Vice President Lou Fischer issued a “no winners” decision after Chin fainted and was hospitalized after a grueling 11-hour dispute.
The following week, the accountability candidates were elected to the board, eventually selecting a new president and vice president from among themselves.
Despite the new leadership, tensions remain. It seems that despite their promise to create a more transparent future moving forward, the new SF Pride board members are stuck trying to rectify the problems of the past. How can we expect them to address divisive issues in our community if they can’t even sit in the same room and face each other without fainting? The more things change, the more it’s us versus them.
Oscar Raymundo is the head of marketing at a leading LGBT media company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org