Workers Vanguard No. 1026
14 June 2013
SF Pride Board Salutes U.S. Imperialism, Spits on Manning
With the eyes of the world on the court-martial of Bradley Manning, controversy over his case has ripped through San Francisco’s large gay community. After SF Pride members announced on April 26 that Manning had been elected as an honorary grand marshal for the annual Gay Pride Day Parade on June 29-30, the SF Pride Board overturned the decision within hours. In a written statement, SF Pride president Lisa L. Williams denounced Manning’s election as “a mistake” that “should never have been allowed to happen.” Echoing the government’s charge that Manning “aided the enemy” by revealing some of the crimes of U.S. imperialism, Williams proclaimed that “even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms [sic] way the lives of our men and women in uniform…will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.”
Enraged by Williams’ condemnation of a man they rightly view as a hero, Manning supporters protested at a May 7 meeting of the Pride Board. The Board then prevaricated, claiming that Manning’s election was a procedural violation of a requirement that the grand marshal be a local gay person, and declared the discussion over. But liberal Democratic city supervisor David Campos, a gay Latino, mandated a public meeting to patch up the controversy, pointing to Pride as “an organization which receives City funding.”
At a May 31 open forum in the Castro district, over 100 people, including from groups like the Bradley Manning Support Network, Code Pink and Iraq Veterans Against the War, confronted the Board and demanded Manning’s reinstatement as honorary grand marshal. Speakers pointed out that Manning is being witchhunted for telling the truth about the bloody deeds of the U.S. armed forces. Indeed, some pointed out, left-talking Democrats in the Pride milieu would have hailed Manning’s actions if the Republican Bush were still in the White House, but they cannot stand telling the truth about Commander-in-Chief Obama, a Democrat.
To widespread applause, a Spartacus Youth Club speaker declared at the forum:
“Bradley Manning is a hero. He should be hailed for exposing U.S. imperialist crimes and atrocities all over the world. By doing so, he performed a great service to workers and the oppressed, and they in turn have a direct interest in seeing him freed—immediately!
“But the SF Pride Board rejected Manning, spat on him and denounced him. They’ve taken Obama’s side in the ‘war on terror,’ Obama’s side in the war on civil liberties. They have sided with Manning’s jailers and torturers. They apologize for and defend the greatest force of violence, terror and oppression on earth: U.S. imperialism.”
Harking back to early days, many in attendance expressed dismay at how right wing SF Pride has become since its founding over 40 years ago. One longtime activist denounced the Board’s act as “a slap in the face to everything that Pride once stood for.” He pointed out that after the 1969 Stonewall rebellion that sparked the gay rights movement, gay activists, as part of the broader New Left, called to end the Vietnam War and to free the Black Panthers. Speakers attributed the Board’s repudiation of Manning to pressure from corporations who fund the event and to gay vets and members of the military. On June 7, the Board announced in a press release that speakers at the open forum had failed to sway them. Bradley Manning is out as grand marshal.
Gay Rights and the
Democratic Party Machine
Radical nostalgia aside, the bourgeois political line of SF Gay Pride is no new thing. While always marked by liberal lifestylist politics, the gay rights movement as a whole turned sharply right during the last 30 years along with the national ascent of “family values” and American chauvinism, a period of renewed attacks on workers, the poor and the oppressed and the erosion of civil liberties. Gay rights came to mean the right to marry and the right to serve in the military—two goals the old radicals would have disdained.
The San Francisco Democratic establishment learned decades ago how to manipulate the rhetoric of “gay power” to bolster its rule, and Gay Pride Day has become an institutionalized representation of this face of city government. The co-optation of the rhetoric of gay rights into the fabric of Democratic Party political life dates back to Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay Supervisor and the first to march on Gay Pride Day.
After right-wing bigot Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Milk in 1978, the city machine seized on the issue for political capital. One of the first acts of Mayor Dianne Feinstein was to mandate the recruitment of gays into the police force. For years, dozens of gay police have headed up the parade with its “diversity” contingent of cops, squad cars and paddy wagons. These are the same cops who harass, beat up and arrest homeless people, sex workers and political protesters on the orders of Democratic Party mayors and the Democratic Party-dominated Board of Supervisors. But liberal activists do not protest the dominant presence of the police—the armed enforcers of racist capitalist rule—because what is valued by the gay lifestylist agenda is the cops’ sexual identity.
In San Francisco, “gay rights” rhetoric helps corral votes and support to the liberal-chic face of City Hall. Thus former mayor Gavin Newsom sought to bring his left-liberal opponents solidly into his camp by championing gay marriage. The status quo in the city today shows that Harvey Milk’s strategy of lifestyle liberation has succeeded in a limited way. He wanted being openly gay to be openly accepted in San Francisco politics. Indeed, as gay marriage rights are inching toward reality in state legislatures across the country, more gay faces are appearing in high places.
But even as more gays are prominent in bourgeois politics, anti-gay bigotry is exploding on the streets. Just last month Mark Carson, a 32-year-old gay black man, was shot in the face at pointblank range in New York’s Greenwich Village, widely considered one of the bubbles of safety for gay people. The assailant taunted him with anti-gay slurs before pulling the trigger. This is no aberration. On June 4, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released its 2012 report documenting the level of violence against gays. Along with thousands of assaults, the coalition also documents a reported total of 25 anti-gay homicides in the U.S. last year. The year before had the highest total of documented killings: 30. The actual numbers are undoubtedly higher.
Oppression Rooted in
To struggle effectively against the persecution of gays and others who fall outside of the heterosexual “norm,” it is necessary to start with the understanding that democratic rights in capitalist society are partial, fragile and reversible. As fighters for the socialist liberation of humanity, we are committed to full democratic rights for gays, lesbians and transgenders, and we support any legal advances that can be wrested from the rulers of this cruelly bigoted society. This includes the right to serve in the military. At the same time, as Marxists we give not one iota of support to U.S. imperialism, the world’s biggest terrorist force.
We support the right of gay people to marry and divorce, but we do not advocate or prettify the institution of marriage. We fight for a society in which no one needs to be forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, inheritance, immigration rights or any of the privileges capitalist society grants to those who are embedded in the traditional “one man on one woman for life” marital mold. The Spartacist League vehemently opposes any government intrusion into consensual sexual activity and private life. Government out of the bedrooms!
But there is nothing inherently revolutionary about an unconventional lifestyle. The act of “coming out” may defy, but cannot eradicate, class-rooted repressive institutions. The oppression of homosexuals, like the oppression of women, serves as an index of more general social and political attitudes. As the basic institution defining sexual relations, the family, together with organized religion, mandates patriarchal social relations and generalized anti-gay oppression. The family—the main source of the oppression of women in class society—is necessary to the capitalist system of exploitation. It regiments and teaches respect for authority to each new generation of wage slaves and cannon fodder.
Harvey Milk thought that American capitalism was just fine. In that sense, today’s SF Pride Board follows in his footsteps. They’re at peace with bloody U.S. imperialism, too. Acceptance of the capitalist order, whether captained by Democrats or Republicans, is antithetical to any genuine fight for the liberation of black people, gays or any of the oppressed.
As the SYC speaker stressed at the May 31 Gay Pride forum:
“It is going to take a working-class revolution to bury the American imperialist beast once and for all, and to ensure the complete liberation of women, black people, gays and lesbians, all the oppressed. For this to be successful, the world needs to know the truth about the systematic violence and lies that prop up capitalist rule. And Bradley Manning helped get the truth out. Free Bradley Manning!”