Pride meeting ends amid chaos

by James Patterson, Bay Area Reporter 05/09/2013


Supporters of honoring Bradley Manning as SF Pride parade grand marshal shout "Let us in" in the lobby of the Pride offices after being locked out of the Pride Committee's board meeting.(Photo: Rick Gerharter)

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 SF Pride CEO Earl Plante, noticeably shaken after , 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.


Chaotic scene

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.

Manning supporter and Pentagon papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg told the board 60 seconds was not enough time to make a serious statement in support of Manning. He said the April 26 statement from Williams that Manning "placed in harm's way the lives of our men and women in uniform" was false.

Ellsberg told the board that Manning placed no one in harm's way. He said fewer troops are in Afghanistan because of Manning's courageous action and Manning had saved lives. He said nearly 60,000 people have signed a petition for Manning to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sexologist and former grand marshal Carol Queen said the Manning controversy "hurts my heart." She said the LGBT community has become conservative.

Longtime activist Jerry the Fairy shouted, "SF Pride is on the wrong side of the LGBT community and on the wrong side of social justice." He told the board, "The Manning decision will follow you all if you expect political careers."

Lisa Geduldig said in the past Pride was about freedom and gay politics and "we need to be true to that." She said it was more important to her to have Manning as grand marshal than someone from The L Word.

Starchild, an at-large representative of the Libertarian National Committee, told the board he was disturbed by its lack of transparency. He said board members failed to adhere to the rules and they should make Manning grand marshal this year.

"Put it to a public vote," he said.

After the first 15 members of the public had commented, Fischer abruptly announced the board "needed to go into executive session for five minutes." It lasted 25 minutes and the decision reached by the board was to allow TV news cameras into the meeting room. During the closed session, however, actions by the angry Manning supporters on the street, in the building lobby, and in the stairwell escalated to the point that the single security man announced to the board that the crowd was out of control. All of these things were said in the meeting room but the door was open and the B.A.R. overheard them.

Plante was not present during public comments. Suddenly he appeared and told the board he had been assaulted and he directed a staffer to call the police. He described the situation to the board as a "riot."

Plante appeared shaken and angry. He said someone on the street had shouted in his face and shoved him to the ground "to make his point." Again, the B.A.R., stationed by the door to the room, overheard Plante as he described the alleged assault to the board. When the board realized the paper's presence, someone closed the door and locked the board away until police arrived.

About 20 police arrived amidst the shouting crowd and several frightened board members. It took a bit for police to understand what had happened and why they were called. Plante told officers that he wanted to file charges against his assailant, if the person could be found.

Board members wanted police to escort them away from the building. They said they were afraid they would be assaulted by the crowd. Plante announced to the few journalists trapped there with them that the board would hold another meeting with better security and in a larger venue. Neither he nor Williams could give a date for the meeting.

It fell to board treasurer David Currie to tell the crowd that the meeting was over and that another meeting would be held. He requested police protection to make the announcement to the angry protesters in the stairwell. As Currie spoke, the crowd shouted him down.

Outside the building, San Franciscan Bruce Beaudettte, 53 and a security professional, said he had been one of the 15 people to make public comments before the meeting ended. He said he told the board that "Pride should inspire people not shame them." He said he did not consider the crowd violent.

"We were vocal," he said.

San Francisco Police Officer M. Shea said there were no arrests. He said the crowd was "cooperative and compliant." He said the official reason for ending the meeting was too small a venue.

Ellsberg was one of the last people to leave. He said the board had held the meeting "in a large closet."

"They made no real effort to hear comments," he said, adding, "maybe they will next time."

Liz Highleyman contributed to this report.