For a second year in a row, Chelsea Manning has been named “honorary grand marshal” of the annual San Francisco gay pride celebration and parade, and once again it’s causing a stir.
Last year a military judge found Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, as she was then known, guilty of espionage for turning over top secret military documents to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. One month later, Manning announced she wanted to live as a woman named Chelsea.
Gary Virginia, the volunteer president of the board of San Francisco Pride, which organizes the parade, speaks to Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about why they are honoring Manning.
- Gary Virginia, volunteer president of the board of San Francisco Pride, which organizes the parade in late June.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Well, now to San Francisco, where the naming of an honorary marshal for the annual gay pride parade is causing a stir. The honor goes to Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Private Bradley Manning, who was convicted in a military court of espionage for turning over top secret military documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
One month later, Manning announced she wanted to live as a woman named Chelsea, and this is the second year in a row that Manning has been honored by San Francisco Pride, although last year, that honor was rescinded after an outcry. Joining us on the line from San Francisco is Gary Virginia, volunteer president of the board of San Francisco Pride, which organizes the parade. Gary, welcome.
GARY VIRGINIA: Thank you.
HOBSON: Well, you've angered some members of the military with this decision. Why did you make it? Why decide to give Chelsea Manning this title of honorary grand marshal?
VIRGINIA: Well, first of all, she was legitimately elected a community grand marshal for last year's pride parade, and the board rescinded that honor, and the community and the membership of Pride was upset about it, and a new board was elected October 1st of last year. And we are fulfilling the wishes of the membership in a large part of the Bay Area community to say that we feel Chelsea Manning is owed an apology, and that she should be awarded. So we're honoring her with an honorary grand marshal title this year.
HOBSON: Honoring her for what reason? What has she done that you want to honor?
VIRGINIA: Well, I think the community selected her last year because of her bravery to expose war crimes that our government was hiding, and they felt that she was wrongly prosecuted, treated poorly while she was imprisoned and not really given a fair trial. So a lot's happened since then, as we've seen with Edward Snowden's choice of how he released information. And he credits Chelsea Manning with guiding him on how he's released his information.
And I think the whole country and world has changed with the bravery of these whistleblowers exposing surveillance and war crimes and other things.
HOBSON: But there is still a big split when it comes to people's opinions about what Chelsea Manning did. I want to read to you some of it. Sean Sala, who is an LGBT military activist, has called for a national boycott of the pride parade, saying the fact that SF Pride would do this once again is just astounding. They will reap what they sow. They have spit in the face of the LGBT military community, all in the name of senseless ideology.
How do you respond to criticism like that?
VIRGINIA: Well, I think that's a minority opinion, and when you look at organizations and people who are supportive of Chelsea Manning, like Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Military Law Task Force, the National Lawyers Guild, the Gay Bob Basker Post 315 of the American Legion here in San Francisco, the San Francisco Labor Council, Veterans for Peace, Queer Today. There's a whole host of people, including gay military people like Lieutenant Dan Choi, he was a huge advocate for "don't ask, don't tell," U.S. Army Colonel, retired, Ann Wright, Ethan McCord, a former U.S. Army specialist.
And Manning has won numerous awards. She has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, and also an award from the Global Exchange Humans Rights Award. So I think that this is a minority opinion of people who had a different agenda out of San Diego, and it doesn't represent the majority opinion.
HOBSON: Well, here's another opinion. This is somebody on Facebook, who is currently serving in the Navy, a gay military member, who says: What are San Francisco Pride parade officials thinking? He - referring to Bradley Manning, who is now referred to as Chelsea Manning - lied, stole information, and no matter your beliefs, we swore an oath, and Manning brought discredit to the U.S. armed forces.
VIRGINIA: I just think it's a difference of opinion about how people serve in the military. I think that there are laws that people are required when you're in the service to report crimes, and when you do it legitimately through the chain of command and nothing is done, I think people of conscience have a responsibility to speak out, and that's what Manning did.
HOBSON: What's the response been so far? Has there been a lot of blowback?
VIRGINIA: Not really. I mean, the Chelsea Manning Support Network has been in the pride parade for three years. This will be their fourth. And last year, in spite of all the controversy, they had the largest marching contingent that was non-corporate in the entire parade. It spanned numerous city blocks long, and there were also supporters in other contingents throughout the parade honoring Manning, even though the Pride board rescinded their offer.
So, quite honestly, there's not been much controversy here. There's a huge amount of support for Chelsea Manning. And we're expecting another large contingent in the parade with her being honored this year, along with a whole host of very qualified people, spanning a transgender 16-year-old from the Bay Area who was bullied, to people in their 70s and 80s who were pioneers in the LGBT rights movement.
HOBSON: Well, but that's the question, I guess, is: Does it take away at all from those other honorees, when you've got somebody who, at the very least, is divisive?
VIRGINIA: I think in a civil rights movement, the people who are activists and pioneers will always be controversial. And, you know, the pride parade and celebration, our goal is not to throw a big party. Our goal is to be a critical player in the civil rights movement for LGBT people, not only locally, but around the world.
And our theme this year is Color Our World with Pride, and we'll be focusing heavily on what's happening in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon. There's really heinous, state-sponsored laws coming down against gay people around the world, and I don't think that Chelsea Manning being honored would take anything away from that, and I think she's just part of the fabric of the movement.
HOBSON: Gary Virginia, volunteer president of the board of San Francisco Pride, which is organizing the 44th annual San Francisco gay pride celebration and parade in late June. Gary, thanks so much.
VIRGINIA: Thanks a lot.
HOBSON: And let us know what you think of this decision in San Francisco to honor Chelsea Manning at the gay pride parade. You can go to hereandnow.org, or you can send us a tweet @hereandnow, @hereandnowrobin, @jeremyhobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.