SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Army private charged in a massive leak of U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website has been named as a grand marshal of San Francisco's annual gay rights parade, a choice that was immediately condemned by several groups representing gay and lesbian service members.
Rainey Reitman, a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, said Friday that her group was notified this week that a committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals had voted to select the imprisoned intelligence specialist for the distinction that each year recognizes about a dozen celebrities, politicians and community organizations for their contributions to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
Manning is openly gay, and his lawyers have argued that his experience as a soldier before the repeal of the U.S. military's ban on gay service played an important role in his decision to pass hundreds of thousands of sensitive items to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
"As a longstanding Manning supporter, I'm thrilled to see our community publicly embrace his courage in disclosing classified truths about the war in Iraq and other facts, which empower the American public to promote smarter future policy," Reitman said.
Other activists were less enthusiastic, saying that the 25-year-old Manning should not be honored either as an individual or as a representative of the gay rights movement.
"Manning's blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation should not be praised," Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association, a group that advocates for same-sex military families. "The LGBT military community is outraged by this decision and we genuinely hope that San Francisco Pride will reconsider their appointment of Bradley Manning as a grand marshal for this year's celebration. No community of such a strong and resilient people should be represented by the treacherous acts that define Bradley Manning."
The selection first was reported Thursday by the Bar Area Reporter, San Francisco's gay newspaper.
Officials from San Francisco Pride, the organization that puts on the event, did not return telephone calls and an e-mail seeking comment on Friday. A contingent of Manning's supporters has marched in past gay pride parades held in many U.S. cities.
While the event's grand marshals are typically celebrated as they wave from convertibles through downtown San Francisco, naming Manning as one is a symbolic gesture. In custody at a military prison in Kansas while he awaits court martial, he will not be able to attend the June 30 parade.
Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 leaked to the news media the classified information about the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers, has agreed to participate in the San Francisco parade on Manning's behalf, Reitman said.