Last week, it seemed that the San Francisco LGBT Pride Committee was planning this year’s march with an enormous set of ovaries. As the Bay Area Reporter wrote, "Pride's electoral college, which is made up of former grand marshals, has selected Army Private First Class Bradley Manning as its choice for grand marshal. Manning has admitted to leaking 700,000 classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks and is facing court-martial.”
Private Manning, in federal custody, could no more have actually attended the march than he could have planned a trip to visit Julian Assange. The Bradley Manning Support Network announced that Daniel Ellsberg, the famed whistle-blower who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, would attend in Manning’s absence.
It was a delicious setup, with the potential to lead to the most raucous, politically charged pride event since the Christopher Street Liberation Day of 1970 marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
But a gay movement born in a riot can’t tolerate protest anymore. Within a day, San Francisco's Pride had revoked the selection, declaring that it had been a "mistake" and "an insult to everyone, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country."
Though it seemed virtually impossible to shove Private Bradley Manning of all people (a young gay man once held for months in solitary confinement in a military prison) even further off the map, the LGBT community has done just that.
Listen up, fellow homos—you have been bought, paid-for and sold to the highest bidder. The military industrial complex is so far up the ass of the LGBT movement that it can feel what is being digested in its upper intestines. Talking points and "messaging," not discussion and debate, are the preferred methods of "communication" in a movement now run and owned by PR-firm trained Professional Homosexuals. Dissent will not be tolerated, and the assimilation of homosexuals into the rest of the militarized American public is complete.
In the fall of 2009, on the eve of the National Equality March on Washington, I covered my first (and only) fundraising gala for the Human Rights Campaign. But before the crowd could be entertained by Lady Gaga, Judy Shepard, and the President of the United States, it was time for a word from our sponsors—the "honor roll": a nearly 10-minute-long video extolling the virtues of player after player in the military industrial complex.
I understood why certain entertainment sponsors were HRC donors, given their audiences. I had no clue at the time why it seemed like nearly every defense contractor under the sun was shelling out money to a gay rights group. (As of today, confirmed sponsors for the 2013 HRC dinner, still six months away, already include Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.)
Were these death peddlers that committed to equality? Were these corporations so harmed by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? After I grew up a bit in covering gay politics over the next few years, I realized that there is no such thing as "gay politics," only "money politics"—and there’s no money in America like military money.
For war profiteers, the issues of marriage equality and gay discrimination in the armed forces were, at best, third in line among their priorities. First, they were paying for access. Since there are so many homos in positions of power on congressional staffs, buying a seat at their gay table was a solid financial investment. If a legislative chief of staff is a power bottom, a quick way for a lobbyist to get access to his boss is to lube him up by schmoozing him at a fundraising gala for his favorite cause.
Second, there was the longer-term investment in buying off LGBT political activists (known to be politically volatile and even, once upon a time, radical) outside the Beltway. It would take time to herd these unpredictable gay cats, who might have some unpatriotic pacifist leanings. And so these donors were, in a sophisticated and calculated fashion, grooming a class of Professional Homosexuals: mercenaries who spend their entire careers in a revolving door between gay organizations like HRC and GLADD, leadership positions at gay "community centers," the Democratic party, the Obama White House, K Street lobbying shops, “public relations” consulting firms, and the military-industrial complex.
When SF Pride's electoral college of former grand marshalls selected Private Manning last week, it was time for these Professional Homosexuals to step in. Lisa Williams, SF Pride Board President, wrote that "even the hint of support" for Bradley Manning "will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride." Get it? Don’t even hint about it!
The Professional Homosexual went on, completely without irony, to denounce her own organization's electoral college as "a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBT community's highest aspirations as grand marshals for SF Pride," completely ignoring that she was one of a different handful vetoing their choice. According to her SF Pride bio, Williams is president of "One Source Public Affairs, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in the management of state, local and national political campaigns and strategic programs for non-profit organizations.” (Kevin Gozstola at Firedoglake wrote over the weekend that the entry had said Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign,” but that is not in her bio today.)
Professional Homosexuals fill the boards of organizations like SF Pride. As their organizations' chief fund raisers, they are beholden to corporate donors (of any ilk) to keep their outfits going. But Professional Homosexuals like Williams can also build very nice lives for themselves, in serving on these boards, as one of the handful of people who happen to also have a consulting firm that makes “strategic programs for non-profit organizations.” When anything threatens this livelihood—even the hint of support for controversy—a Professional Homosexual knows which cheek her ass is buttered on. (Meanwhile, the same Professional Homosexual has no problem taking a steaming dump on Bradley Manning who, regardless of one’s opinion of him, cannot be charged with profiting in any way for his own personal gain from what he did.)
To the Professional Homosexual, there is no moral quandary in selling out one's own queer soul, liberated by a once-radical movement, by accepting endless militarism and corporate greed in return for personal fortune. And since Professional Homosexuals control so many LGBT organizations and spaces, they threaten to drag the entire community down with them.
We saw a prequel to the Private Manning retraction two years ago, when New York City’s LGBT Center also cravenly caved to the military-industrial complex. Glendda Testone, the Executive Director of New York City’s LGBT Center, had parleyed a gig with GLAAD into a $175,000-a-year job as the shepherd of the center, one of New York City’s biggest LGBT organizations (a typical career move for the Professional Homosexuals who graduate from GLAAD).
In the spring of 2011, the Siege Busters Working Group (made up of gay, lesbian and straight members) sought to use the LGBT Center to plan various activities, including to organize their presence in New York’s pride march. The pro-Palestine group had used the Center, without issue, since at least 2008.
But when gay porn icon Michael Lucas—a staunch pro-Israel Zionist, a major fund raiser for the Center, and the husband of the Center’s former board president—found out about the group, he told the Center to evict them.
Initially, Testone reportedly told Lucas to back off and respect the Center’s open-door policy. The Center had, after all, a decades-long history of hosting groups organized around topics it neither supported nor endorsed, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Arab Spring, South African apartheid and the Iraq War.
Then Lucas threatened to lead a boycott of the Center’s donors, and Testone and the Center’s board caved. Rather than figure out a way to facilitate political discussion and debate in a publicly subsidized community center, Testone and her board banned discussion of Israel and Palestine completely from the center’s walls. The Center’s line became that only “queer focused” topics could be discussed in the Center, and “non-queer” topics—like military occupation, U.S. foreign policy, or pacifism—weren’t gay enough and were “too divisive” to the LGBT community.
Under Testone’s “leadership,” not even a hint of support for anything controversial will be tolerated. This isn’t surprising in organizations run by Professional Homosexuals, who not only have to protect their institution's budgets, but their friends’ six-figure salaries (not to mention their own future job prospects). A movement that once overlapped with the labor, sexual, and anti-war movements now won’t even question—won’t even let anyone question, for fear of being associated with their questioning—anything as controversial as military occupation or corporate greed.
The boys and girls from GLADD make a living (and a rather good one, at that) shaking down the likes of South Park and Ron Howard improperly using the word “gay.” At the same time, their organization nearly imploded in 2011 when it came out that, after AT&T gave them $50,000 and while an AT&T lobbyist sat on their board, GLADD came out for an AT&T/T-Mobile merger and against net neutrality.
The real sins of GLADD are twofold. First, the people who pass through there—who consider their job to be the "public relations firm" of the LGBT community, as if it needs such a thing—learn how to manipulate media on behalf of other gay groups. They then—coincidence!?—land good jobs for themselves at the same groups for whom they have groomed fawning coverage.
Their other, more egregious sin is that they have perpetuated this stupid idea that covering the LGBT community responsibly means only writing and reporting nice things about gay people (and their sponsors). This fosters a new generation of impotent journalists who don’t realize that, if you’re doing your job as a journalist, people don’t "like" you.
Last August, I addressed the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association with a screed about the evils of LGBT press flacks. Before I spoke, a representative from one of NLGJA’s sponsors, Wells Fargo, got up on stage to talk about how he had always wanted to be a journalist; instead, he said without irony, he was glad to be at Wells Fargo, so that he could "work with" gay journalists to tell good stories about all the great things Wells Fargo is doing for the LGBT community.
is also being "sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted." Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called "highly reprehensible" relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government "for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications."
In accepting this vile hypocrisy—in which an individual like Private Manning is shamed by the LGBT community while corporate raiders like Wells Fargo are praised—the average homosexual becomes as culpable as the Professional Homosexual in selling out the movement.
A regular homosexual can give Dan Savage handjob after handjob for his anti-bully “It Gets Better” campaign if he wants, and he can even scream from the rafters that Savage should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for saying that something must be done to protect the powerless who are bullied by the powerful. But that same homosexual becomes as beholden to the military-industrial complex as the Professional Homosexual when he fails to call out SF Pride as a bully. The powerful group found perhaps the most marginalized, powerless homosexual in the nation, pulled him into the spotlight for a few hours, took a giant shit on him, roughed him up a little, called him names, and then kicked him back into the gutter.
The entire LGBT community— not just the Professional Homosexual class—is to blame for the militarization of the movement, when it exalts breaking the law to preserve the status quo and denounce it as traitorous when it challenges the status quo. Imagine, for a minute, that you are the Military-Industrial Complex. You’d be very happy that a bunch of homosexuals at SF Pride named as the 2009 Grand Marshal Lt. Dan Choi, who broke the law repeatedly while trying to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In honoring Lt. Choi, the homosexuals at SF Pride were furthering the status quo in militarizing a larger percentage of the American population.
Now imagine how happy you’d be that the very same homosexuals denounced their own choice of Private Manning as Grand Marshal because—wait for it—he broke the law! (Alas, he did so to ends that made people question, not expand, the concept of American militarization.) Then marvel as the same fairies go to the parade and pass out flyers from Pride corporate sponsors like AT&T and Verizon, who cooperated with illegal eavesdropping.
The corporatization of LGBT political discussion knows no party, but its lack of outrage about (or even interest in!) American militarism is due to how embedded the movement is with the Obama White House. Can you imagine how differently Bradley Manning would be perceived by traditionally Democratically aligned homosexuals, were he being detained by President Bush? How different the debate about drone warfare would be if Albert Gonzales, and not Eric Holder, had suggested that President Bush could potentially order drone strikes in the states?
Yet there are LGBT "political activists" (these people exist, I have interacted with them) who will complain about drone warfare, never even question Obama about it, and completely ignore facts like, oh, two of the top three drone manufacturers lobbying Washington right now are HRC corporate donors.
The shameful treatment of Private Manning is an embarrassment for President Obama, as it should be, and the gay establishment just helped him to sweep it under the rug. Yes, Obama has perhaps done as much for gay legal rights as LBJ did for racial legal rights. But Martin Luther King took LBJ's support for the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, then turned around and excoriated him in his final years about the Vietnam War. He was not liked for this at the time, but history (aided by Daniel Ellsberg’s leaks) proved him right.
Now homosexuals who protest the will of powerful gay donors and corporate sponsors are getting systemically warned to shut the hell up, by the people claiming to lead them. In the same manner in which the Obama administration’s aggressive treatment of Private Manning creates a silencing effect for other would-be whistleblowers, Glendda Testone of the LGBT Center and Lisa Williams of SF Pride have created a silencing effect for queer political activists. That Private Manning’s fling with SF Pride ended faster than a Grindr hook up proves that the homosexuals in charge are terrified of anything remotely politically controversial.
Am I saying Private Manning is above protest, criticism, disagreement? No. But imagine that Manning had been named Grand Marshal of SF Pride, and that Ellsberg had appeared in his place, as (briefly) planned. Why not watch gay and lesbian service members come out and decry Ellsberg at Pride, if they want? Why not watch Private Manning’s supporters defend him? Wouldn’t that be a great argument to watch in what is supposed to be a political march (and not just a human ad for Bud Light)?
It will never happen, though, as long as Professional Homosexuals are running the movement—and as long as average homosexuals think gay pride means clicking that you “like” Starbucks on Facebook because they support gay marriage. No serious debate (or even the hint of a cause for a debate) will be tolerated. The idea that "queer focused" causes (like HIV research and housing for homeless LGBT youth) might be better funded if tax money was not being spent so disproportionately on corporate tax breaks and unnecessary, sometimes criminal military largess can’t even be discussed.
One gay man has probably given the American people more insight into this last point than any other: Private Bradley Manning. Love him, hate him—you cannot pretend that he is not part of the modern gay American story, nor can you deny that his actions form a key component to why anyone knows certain truths about the last two American wars.
This past weekend confirmed for me what older gay and lesbian activists have been telling me, correctly, for years: that the modern gay pride celebration is not a political march about free expression, but a corporate trough. In just a day, SF Pride marked the occasion as a time to further silence a gay man already locked away in prison.
Hopefully, in the same way the police’s attempt to silence a bunch of queers in a Greenwich Village bar four decades ago backfired, perhaps the attempt to further silence Private Manning will backfire, as well.
Steven W. Thrasher was named Journalist of the Year 2012 by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his staff writing for the Village Voice and his freelance contributions to the New York Times and Out magazine. Two weeks after receiving this award, he was laid off by the Voice. He is currently traveling through Europe and Asia on a religious pilgrimage.
[Image by Jim Cooke.]