The ‘Chelsea Manning Show’ goes onCommentary, Online Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights Saturday, September 30th, 2017
Selective suppression of free speech has reached a level of violence unsurpassed in our country. In April 2013, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee announced Chelsea, formerly Bradley, Manning as Grand Marshal of city’s 2013 Pride Parade. Manning was in prison awaiting trial for disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Due to outrage from members of the LGBT community, SF Pride officials quickly rescinded their decision and outraged other members of the LGBT community. The economics and the politics of the Chelsea Manning/SF Pride controversy in San Francisco in 2013 has grown larger, more violent, more divisive, and more complex.
I was a freelance journalist in San Francisco and filed stories, over many months, on the Manning controversy. For Harvard’s Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, I filed a story titled “The Revenge of Chelsea Manning.” Many San Franciscans, especially in the LGBT community, considered Manning a “heroine,” “freedom fighter,” “whistleblower,” and any opposing views were based on “misinformation.” I saw vicious riots and fights. I heard threats and slurs.
Manning supporters sought political aid from California’s powerful politicians U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House, and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbra Boxer, who retired from the U.S. Senate in 2016. None of these political leaders, in 2013, publicly expressed support for Manning. Boxer, I believe, helped influence former President Obama to pardon Manning in 2017.
In August 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for violations of the Espionage Act. During her trial, Manning never claimed to be a “freedom fighter.” Her attorney told the jurors Manning was naïve. In the final days of his administration, President Obama controversially pardoned Manning, who served less than seven years in prison.
When Manning was released from Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas, in May 2017, she promptly criticized former President Obama and President Donald Trump promptly criticized Manning. “The Chelsea Manning Show” goes on.
In recent weeks, Harvard’s Kennedy School announced Manning would be a Fellow. Harvard, like the idiotic and incompetent San Francisco Pride Committee in 2013, quickly rescinded its decision due to academic outrage and real and threatened resignations from other Harvard Fellows and, likely, fear of protests and loss of private funding. Manning’s honor set off a “firestorm” at Harvard. “The Chelsea Manning Show” goes on.
Manning claims her transgender voice is being marginalized by Harvard. Other transgender voices may be heard at Harvard, provided they were never convicted of violating the Espionage Act. “The Chelsea Manning Show” goes on.
Days later, Manning was denied entry into Canada on grounds she is a convicted traitor. If Manning and her supporters thought her outrageous pardon by former President Barack Obama ended her legal ordeals, it appears wishful thinking.
In September 2017, President Trump tweeted he wanted a ban on transgender troops. Capitol Hill and administration displeasure over the continuing Chelsea Manning Show, I suspect, played a negative role in a broader measure perceived as discriminatory toward the transgender community. Still, Manning is seen by many as a transgender celebrity heroine and human rights leader for the 21st century. Big role for a flawed, naive, minor character.
Did Harvard discriminate against Manning by rescinding her honor? In 2013, did the San Francisco Pride Celebration Committee discriminate against Manning by rescinding her Grand Marshal honor? By awarding Manning a 35-year prison sentence, did the U.S. government discriminate against her? Did the Canadian government discriminate against Manning by denying her entry? I suggest the answers to these questions is a resounding no.
The controversial Manning is a free woman thanks to Barack Obama’s controversial pardon. She may have had her crimes erased by presidential order, but in the view of most of the rest of world she remains a traitor. “The Chelsea Manning Show” goes on.
Jim Patterson is a member of the California State Society and a Washington, D.C.-based writer and speaker.
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