Pride Meeting Ends Amid Chaos
The San Francisco Pride board of directors faced off against an angry crowd of about 125 Bradley Manning supporters Tuesday evening at a meeting intended to hear public comments on its reversal of Manning as a Pride grand marshal. But the meeting came to an abrupt end after SF Pride CEO Earl Plante, noticeably shaken, said he had been assaulted and ordered his staff to call police for what he called a "riot."
Manning supporters, who gathered at SF Pride’s offices and filled the hallway, were angry about a statement released by the Pride board shortly before the May 7 meeting that explained its "longstanding policy" that defined a community grand marshal as "a local hero (individual) not being a celebrity."
Manning, 25, is the gay soldier who leaked 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks. He has confessed to some of the charges against him but remains in a military prison awaiting a court-martial.
Manning had been named a grand marshal for this year’s Pride parade, and was chosen by the Pride’s electoral college, a group of former grand marshals. But two days after the April 24 announcement, Pride board President Lisa Williams issued a terse statement saying that Manning would not be a grand marshal. She attributed his selection to a "mistake."
Tuesday, the Pride board’s latest statement attempted to explain that "Because Mr. Manning is not local, by definition under the grand marshal policy, he may not be nominated or elected by the electoral college as its community grand marshal."
In the statement, the board also apologized to Manning "and for any harsh words that may have been said about him," a reference to Williams’s language in her statement when she said the leadership of SF Pride would not tolerate "support for actions which placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform ..."
The May 7 statement did little to quell the controversy, and Manning supporters turned out in force ahead of the scheduled board meeting.
Denise D’Anne, 80, was among those who planned to comment on what she called Pride’s "very specious argument" against Manning. D’Anne, a transgender woman, is retired and uses a scooter to get about. She never got a chance to comment. Neither did dozens of others.
About half the group crowded into a foyer on Pearl Street, attempting to get to the small upstairs room where the board was meeting. Two elevators of about 10 people were allowed up, including some former grand marshals and reporters. But dozens of others - including photographers and videographers for the Bay Area Reporter and KTVU - were shut out, prompting the protesters to chant, "Let the media in!" and "Stop the lies!" Many people expressed their frustration, stating that the issue was no longer just about Manning, but about the board’s lack of transparency and failure to represent the LGBT community.
The meeting did not begin at its scheduled time of 7 p.m., as activists rushed and shoved their way into the office as a board member entered. Plante, stationed by the door, announced no one with press cameras or recording devices would be allowed in. Angry supporters got angrier. SF Pride had one security person to cover the event.
Plante also announced only 15 people would be allowed in the meeting room. After these people made comments, he said, they would be rotated out and another group of 15 would be allowed in. Those in the meeting room loudly protested they wanted TV cameras to film their comments but the board held firm on its no camera policy.
Bay Area Reporter photographer Rick Gerharter, despite his objections, was barred from the meeting room even though virtually all of the people present had cellphones with cameras and were taking pictures, Gerharter said.
Protests grew louder when SF Pride board President Lisa Williams said commenters had one-minute to speak. A sign on the wall behind her read: "Maximum Capacity 22."
Some in the room took video and photographed the proceedings with cellphones in clear view of Williams and the board members. SF Pride legal counsel Brooke Oliver was on speakerphone.
Board members refrained from answering questions. When a commenter made legal charges about the meeting, Oliver responded.
Board secretary Lou Fischer read the board’s statement that was released shortly before the meeting. She said she would read the statement for every group of 15 rotated into the room.
As Fischer read the statement, Manning supporters shouted, "Grand marshal! Not court-martial!" outside the window from the median strip on Market Street. She had to read loudly to be heard over the outside noise.