Bradley Manning Affair Highlights Pride's Awkward Balancing Act

Categories: LGBT

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The face of your movement?
Alas, it doesn't appear Jason Collins will be the grand marshal of the Pride parade. Neither will Bradley Manning who, depending on how you see it, is either a whistleblower or an accused traitor (or, perhaps, a combination of both).

Manning's suitability as a role model would be a wonderful topic for a panel debate. But there's no argument that Pride's convoluted invitation and disinvitation two-step came off abysmally. It reeked of a half-assed attempt to be controversial countered too late by an obsequious kowtow to the festival's corporate backers. But instead of canceling each other out, these moves formed an interference wave and backfired even bigger.

But this only epitomizes Pride's awkward paradox. With humble roots as "Gay Freedom Day," Pride is now a city institution -- complete with corporate sponsors and built-in expectations of doling out hefty sums of money to other city nonprofits while drawing millions of free-spending visitors.

See Also: Brokeback Festival -- Pride Marches to the Brink of Fiscal Disaster

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This delicate -- and perhaps untenable -- balancing act was the subject of a 2011 SF Weekly cover story. At the time, Pride was shackled with a governance structure befitting a highly disorganized basement theater troupe, but also serving as a big-money city institution. And that went as poorly as you'd imagine.

The organization established a virtual best practices of worst practices. Its dysfunctional board ignored intensely problematic fiscal policies and nearly pulled off the feat of running a large gay festival into the ground -- in San Francisco. By all accounts the financial situation is now far less dire. But awkward situations like Manning-gate force people to ask and answer questions beyond "who's counting the money?"

Pride is, to trot out a phrase that has grown hackneyed, too big to fail. But not everyone defines "success" in the same way. Back when "Gay Freedom Day" careened down Polk Street and Gilbert Baker requested $1,000 from the "parade committee" to create the Rainbow Flag, the event was a visceral reaction by a profoundly oppressed minority.

That message is still there -- and San Francisco is still a beacon to the oppressed. But, along the way, Pride has become part of the city's status quo -- when it's de rigueur for straight politicians holding wonky offices to roll down Market Street in fancy cars, a sea change has occurred.

That sea change means you'll see Lady Gaga onstage or buy ballpark-priced beers. It also means the nonprofits that man the event's booze concessions for a slice of the cash flow aren't just grateful for the handout -- they're counting on it. So are city politicians: When Supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener suggested wresting control away from the Pride organization, it wasn't because the nonprofit was putting on a crappy event that had lost meaning. It was because it wasn't banking enough money. As Wiener told us in 2011, "The impact on the community is that the more well-run [Pride] is, the more money it's going to generate -- which then goes back into the community." Pushing for someone else to run the event was "more about maximizing opportunities."

You don't "maximize opportunities" when you make the statement of asking someone accused of divulging military secrets to lead your parade. It's a polarizing move akin to forcing anti-war or Occupy protesters to decide if they want to associate with a movement that also has definitive stances on where Israel's borders should be and other thorny issues.

There's a debate to be had there. But it's not going to sell you much beer. Good luck to Pride. "To thine own self be true" is a statement easier said than done.



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2 comments
patrick_connors
patrick_connors

Thank you for this, Joe!

Between your local connections and Glen Greenwald's more global (yet very local) analysis it's easy to see how revolting the "too big to fail" racket can be in terms of social justice.

What's a gay to do? 

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