Chicago “Free Bradley Manning” Contingent (photo: ChicagoGeek)

(update below)

In San Francisco, New York and Chicago, support contingents for Pfc. Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistleblower, participated in Sunday’s gay pride parades. Those who marched in contingents aimed to make the LGBT community more aware of Bradley Manning.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and Bradley Manning Support Network Advisory Board member, says he and others in the LGBT community organized a contingent because Manning is a gay man and “we think it is important to stand up for those in our own community who are being victimized.”

The Bradley Manning Support Network finds Manning is “being increasingly hailed by LGBT activists as a hero.” Lieutenant Daniel Choi, an active and well-known gay rights advocate who helped contribute to the movement that ultimately results in the repeal of DADT, recently announced he was “proud to stand by side with Bradley Manning” and on the day of the pride parades tweeted, “I dedicate this Pride to American Hero Private Bradley Manning, our fellow gay freedom fighter currently locked up in Ft. Leavenworth, KS.”

The pride parade in Chicago was one of the first major events for the Chicago chapter of Bradley Manning supporters. Here in Chicago, activists are confronting the fact that many do not know of Manning.

“I thought that we need to do more work in Chicago to make people more aware of Bradley Manning and the fact that he’s been in prison for over a year now and he hasn’t had a trial,” shares Stansfield Smith, an antiwar organizer and someone who has done work to defend twenty-three activists given subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. “He was in solitary confinement and he’s basically being framed up because President Obama’s already said he’s guilty for leaking this information to WikiLeaks. I [feel] some obligation to defend this young guy.”

An organizer in San Francisco, Stephanie Tang, who is with World Can’t Wait and other groups, reports up to a million crowded the city’s Market Street to watch the parade. Around forty to fifty marched in a contingent. Orange and pink Manning stickers were handed out. The contingent was able to get pockets of the crowd to cheer and join chants like “Free Bradley Manning! Stop These Wars!” In some instances, it was clear people didn’t know Manning and the contingent would inform the crowd and then those they were talking to almost always wanted stickers and flyers so they could learn more and perhaps even begin to support him. [Photos of the SF contingent.]

Up to this point, there has been hesitation and division among the LGBT community over whether to support Manning. Thayer suggests this has to do with class and party affiliation.

“[We] have a whole section of leadership of various LGBT organization, which is like leaderships of other minority organizations that try to curry favor with the politicians,” explains Thayer. They are “loathe to do anything controversial.” He believes that can be turned around “once the majority of LGBT people know what Bradley Manning” has allegedly done.

One aspect of the Manning story that carries particular resonance is the abuse he experienced at Quantico. Thayer says what he was subjected to was “very reminiscent of the sexual humiliation that was tinged with homophobia that we saw the US conduct against prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in that country.” He doesn’t think the sexual humiliation he was subjected to was an accident.

The key for LGBT people (and all other activists) appears to be convincing Americans that what he did was a “signal service.” Thayer recently participated in an illegal pride parade in Moscow, Russia, with LGBT people from the country and Eastern Europe. They all know Bradley Manning’s case unlike many LGBT people in America.

Making Americans aware of how WikiLeaks cables he allegedly released helped contribute to the Arab Spring and communicating to Americans how he has helped to expose the most serious war crimes committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan could potentially help grow the community of supporters here in the United States.

*For more, here’s a “This Week in WikiLeaks” podcast I produced that features Stan Smith and Andy Thayer.

Update

Dido Rossi of the Lesbian Bi Trans Queer (LBTQ) in the Global Women’s Strike and Dean Kendall of the Payday Men’s Network have signed on to a letter to the LGBTQ community. The letter calls attention to the silence of LGBT organizations in North America. It declares:

We say “There’s no pride in the slaughter of others!”

We take pride in our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who refuse to be killers, such as gay Filipino/Native-American Stephen Funk, the first US soldier to be convicted and jailed for refusing to fight in Iraq; Mehmet Tarhan, gay Kurdish military refuser in Turkey, whose torture and imprisonment were ended by an international campaign in which grassroots LGBTQ organizations were prominent; and now Bradley Manning.

Similar to Thayer’s comment, the letter points out:

The campaign against the punitive conditions of Bradley’s confinement at Quantico has likewise shone a light on the solitary confinement and other torture endured by many tens of thousands of prisoners, not only but especially in the US. [3] The blueprint for Bradley’s treatment at Quantico, for Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram, is the US gulag of civilian prisons, where most prisoners are people of color, and where especially those perceived as LGBTQ may endure endless sexual violence.

UK Bradley Manning supporters are preparing a contingent for the London Pride parade that will take place on July 2.

Here’s a photo from @payamtorabi of the banner for the upcoming parade: