Pride fires staffer
by Cynthia Laird
A San Francisco Pride staffer has been fired in the latest fallout over the board's bungled handling of the Bradley Manning grand marshal controversy.
In an exclusive interview with the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday, May 14, San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee CEO Earl Plante said that the staff member who handled the electoral college grand marshal selection was terminated from his position last Wednesday.
Plante, who was interviewed with Pride board President Lisa Williams, would not name the staffer, calling it a personnel matter.
But Pride staff member Joshua Smith had been tasked with various grand marshal-related duties and it was Smith who sent the confirmed list of grand marshals to the B.A.R. last month.
In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Smith said that he was currently "on leave" from Pride.
"I don't have any comment," he said. "I made a commitment to Lisa and Earl not to have a conversation about my employment status"
Plante and Williams also said that they stand behind the decision to rescind grand marshal honors for Manning, an Army private, but that they are committed to hearing from community members angry with the move.
The May 14 interview was a couple days after the board's latest statement in which it said, "Discussion of this matter is closed for this year."
In a related development gay Supervisor David Campos has called on the board to have "an open community discussion on the matter of Private Manning's awarding and rescission as grand marshal." In a May 14 letter to Plante, Williams, and the Pride board, Campos asked that the meeting be held "as soon as possible and before the June Pride festivities."
"We must remember that Pride was born as a tribute to the courage of the LGBT community, and walking away from this discussion is contrary to that legacy," Campos wrote.
During Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting Campos called the Pride board's decision to "close the discussion" about the manner "disturbing."
He said the controversy over the past few weeks has been "interesting and sad to see," and that no matter one's view about Manning, the public should be allowed to weigh in on the decision to rescind his being a grand marshal at a public meeting.
"The failure of the board to not do that, in my view, is not a good thing for the LGBT community, is not a good thing for the Pride Committee and is not a good thing for the city," said Campos.
Campos's letter prompted Plante to call the B.A.R. Wednesday morning to say that the Pride board "agrees in principle" with Campos and is working with the supervisor to secure space for a community meeting in late May or early June, before Pride festivities.
"Everyone will be heard," Plante said.
During the interview Tuesday, Plante and Williams acknowledged some dissent within the board as to whether a public meeting should be held before or after the festivities.
"There's disagreement on the board to have a meeting before or after Pride," Plante said.
Plante said the board held an emergency meeting last Saturday in the aftermath of a contentious meeting Tuesday, May 7 that saw 125 people try to cram into Pride's small office space. All of those people did not get in, as well as some local reporters, and the meeting was abruptly halted after only about 20 people spoke.
Pride was set to have a membership meeting May 14 but that was canceled when the organization couldn't find a larger venue, Williams said.
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 Pride's electoral college, a group of former grand marshals. But two days after the April 24 announcement, Williams issued a terse statement saying that Manning would not be a grand marshal. She attributed his selection to a "mistake."
Many in the LGBT and progressive communities consider Manning a hero and whistle-blower. There is expected to be a large "Free Bradley Manning" contingent at this year's Pride parade, as there has been the last couple years.
The Pride board issued a statement just before last week's board meeting that said Manning was ineligible for an electoral college nomination because he is not local.
"The whole brouhaha – I as CEO take responsibility for it," Plante said Tuesday. "Pride is all about integrity, transparency, and openness. We attempted to have a meeting and unfortunately a few bad apples took over the meeting."
During last week's meeting protesters chanted loudly in the foyer and on the street. San Francisco police were called, but officers said the crowd was compliant and no arrests were made.
The meeting seems to have shaken up some board members, however. Just before last week's meeting ended Plante said that he was assaulted and Tuesday he said that board treasurer David Currie, who had the job of telling the crowd the meeting was over, was also pushed over.
He decried "vile" comments directed at Williams on various social media sites, calling it "reprehensible."
"I, as CEO, will not tolerate Lisa or anyone on our board being in harm's way," Plante said. "We can't have a dialogue with people engaged in violent attacks."
Plante and Williams also made it clear that the next meeting, whenever it's held, will be at a larger venue and will include security.
Plante and Williams were adamant that no corporate sponsors ever contacted them about the inclusion of Manning as a grand marshal and ask that he be withdrawn, as has been alleged by some bloggers. They also said no military folks pressured them to withdraw Manning's honor.
"No one called us and no one pulled out," Plante said of Pride's sponsors. "We didn't hear from the military."
Some military veterans are supportive of Manning and were at last week's meeting.
It's not entirely clear what led to Manning being placed on the ballot voted on by previous grand marshals if he wasn't eligible. Plante said he is committed to an internal examination to see where the breakdown occurred. Members of Pride's electoral college are re-voting this week for a new grand marshal. [See story, page 1.] It was also discovered during the interview that grand marshal Betty Sullivan was actually selected by the board. Her name was also on the first electoral college ballot. Neither Plante nor Williams could explain why Sullivan's name was on the first electoral college ballot if she was selected by the board.
"The board was reviewing the process, noticed a breakdown and mistake, and corrected it," Williams said, referring to her initial statement that rescinded Manning's grand marshal honor.
Plante said that he is committed to finding out the breakdown in the original voting process – some former grand marshals were not contacted and thus, did not vote – and looking internally at how electoral college grand marshal nominees are vetted.
"There was a breakdown in staff," he said.
Plante also reiterated that the board apologized in last week's statement to Manning, "knowing that he did not ask to be at the center of a community firestorm" and "for any harsh words that may have been said about him."