by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
It’s really difficult to believe that SF Pride could make a tense situation even worse, but they managed it with flying colors last night, and not the colors of the rainbow flag.
For those who may be out of the loop, a quick recap: For two weeks now, the board of directors of SF Pride has been feeling the heat for its overturning of the vote of its electoral college of former grand marshals electing whistleblower Bradley Manning their choice as grand marshal for this year’s parade. Manning is the Army soldier who leaked thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks that, among other things, show American airstrikes on civilians and journalists. Manning has come out as both gay and transgender.
In a statement that borders on the bizarre, Board President Lisa L. Williams explained that Pride couldn’t show “even a hint of support” for Manning because his actions put service members, queer and straight, in danger. Note to Williams: Congress, U.S. presidents, including Bush and Obama, and the generals at the Pentagon put service members in danger by continuing the wars.
At 5pm yesterday, just before about 100-125 people showed up to speak at SF Pride’s public meeting to express their disagreement with the Manning recision, the board issued a second statement, apologizing to Manning for “taking sides in the controversy concerning Mr. Manning’s conduct,” and making a completely different excuse for its decision. It seems that Manning doesn’t qualify to be a grand marshal because he doesn’t meet the criterion for that honor. He is not “a local hero (individual) not being a celebrity.”
Funny that they didn’t think of that when Manning was first nominated by the electoral college months ago.
And funny that they didn’t realize that the folks who gathered outside SF Pride offices last night expecting that they would have their minute or two to address the board weren’t going to be happy about not being let up to their fourth floor meeting room.
By 7:03, it was obvious something was wrong. The meeting was supposed to start at 7pm, and the doors were still locked. Some folks managed to slip into the building when a board member used a key to open the door. A bunch of them got on the elevator to the fourth floor before it was shut off. For an account of what happened upstairs, click here.
Police arrived. I spoke to two of the officers, explaining that we were being denied access to a public meeting. After making a call to the SF Pride office, the officer said that the room upstairs was too small to accommodate everyone. I asked why they didn’t anticipate that and move it to a bigger space. It’s not as if they didn’t know we were coming. The officer assured us that he was told we’d be let up in groups of 15.
We weren’t. At some point, the folks who had been upstairs exited through another door and some of them joined us, among them, 70s whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (author of The Pentagon Papers). Ellsberg explained that the board was only giving people a minute to speak and it was best we edit our remarks accordingly. By that point, we had been waiting over an hour. I had no expectation that we were going to get upstairs.
I went around to the other exit. Folks were chanting, “Shame on pride.” As I arrived, a group pushed past the guards at the door and into the hallway leading up to the board meeting. I followed them. Tempers were flaring. A man was shouting that he had been assaulted by a Pride security person. Another was screaming at the guards to step aside and let us go upstairs.
“We are the community,” we kept saying to them, to no avail. They were just doing their jobs.
Then one of the guards, who was constantly on his cellphone, said that the meeting was cancelled and the cops were on their way. Instead of coming down to talk to us themselves, the cowardly board members were going to have us arrested?
Nice way to treat the community, SF Pride, and to de-escalate a very tense situation.
The cops turned out to be much more reasonable than the SF Pride board. After talking to board members, who still remained out of sight, one of the men in blue stood at the top of the stairs and announced that Pride would hold another meeting in a bigger space on another night.
I shouted up to him that we wanted to hear it from a board member. “We are the community, we’re not leaving until we hear from Pride,” I said.
Eventually, someone from Pride, I didn’t catch his name, confirmed what the officer had said. There was some shouting, the board member dashed off to hide with his fellow cowards, and we collectively decided to go outside to talk, and eventually disburse.
Has it really come to this? That SF Pride overturns a decision by its own electoral college after pressure from gay military types, then cancels its own public meeting rather than let community members have their say about that decision?
If SF Pride board members learned nothing else from last night, they should realize that this issue is not going away.
To see a video of the event by Peter Menchini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiOIUjEWW0k&feature=youtu.be