Tuesday, June 4, 2013

March for Manning and Meaning

For Transparency and Justice
With his military trial underway, Bradley Manning has become an issue of LGBT controversy around this year's 42nd Gay Pride Parade, there are more reasons now than ever to come out and march. The fact that the now established and clearly establishment-oriented Pride Committee president and board could call Manning a threat to the lives of military troops only illustrates the vast distance that our grass-roots, community organization has fallen.

Around 1970 the first Gay-ins were held in Golden Gate Park. In those years, issues like legal marriage and full participation in the military were the last things on queer minds. We were no more than a motley collection of outcasts, still classified in the mental health community as disordered, blatantly and officially discriminated against in every aspect of our lives from holding down a job, to renting an apartment, adopting a child, inheriting anything from our life-partners, being openly harrassed by police, bus-drivers, store owners as well as run of the mill bullies. We had no illusions or desire to be being given a slice of the moldy, cow-patty that was called the "American Pie" or to blandly blend into the mix of the so-called "melting pot."

In 1975, when I first participated in the event called "Gay Pride" it took place in Stern Grove in Golden Gate Park. Hardly a central location, some enterprising organizers had to arrange for local Muni buses to pick up participants in the Castro area and deliver us there. The parades of the seventies were politically focused and militant. 1978 in particular, zeroed in on two hate campaigns: Anita's Bryant the orange juice queen's anti gay rants and John Briggs' more dangerous initiative, proposition 6 which forbade any positive mention of gay people or their rights by anyone, gay or straight, working in California's schools.

Not only were men's issues treated as the only issues in Gay Liberation, men overwhelmingly outnumbered women by about 5 to 1 and the media almost exclusively photographed and interviewed them. Having said that, I should add that both television and print journalists loved the drag costumes and their coverage was predominantly of a derogatory nature.

We dykes were a small, nearly invisible minority. Since forcing women to wear shirts while men are permitted go topless is gender discrimination, breasts of all shapes and sizes abounded in our midst in those early years. Our boobs occasionally got some press but our voices were silenced.

On top of the media problems, there was also rampant sexism on the part of the vast majority of our "gay brothers."Before the first attempts at  genuine lesbian and gay unity which came at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, derision and ridicule of lesbians was commonplace. I remember quite well being verbally harrassed in the Castro for my haircut and lack of makeup. Society, along with gay male culture, worshipped a feminine beauty standard to which dyke outcasts allotted zero respect. The inferiority of women and "their" issues was a given in those days, so, as perverted, non-traditional women, we were considered beneath contempt.

Of course, this fact didn't dampen our spirits or lessen our resolve. It proved only that males were more tied into their superior position on the capitalist gravy train. Thus, in 1993, the alternative to the Gay Pride Parade, the Dyke March was born. It was a women-only event totally devoid of commercial interests and done completely without permits. It takes place the Saturday evening preceeding Gay Day.

With each passing year, the Pride March has become more of a "parade" and a "celebration" as it simultaneously deteriorates into a flashy, show-biz, commercial enterprise for liquor companies like Smirnoff and Budweiser. Performers and alcohol are the main draw, not to mention the plethora of "lgbt pride" items like T-shirts, jewelry, flags, caps,bumper stickers and anything else you can imagine became money-generators. Today, queer "pride" is just a veneer for big business.

But this year, in support of Bradley Manning, transparency, and a more just society for all, people who actually care about queer rights, repression and inequality of all kinds will have an opportunity to come out and show their rainbow stripes. It's past time to turn our parade back into a march, to fight for Manning and meaning in our struggle in the upcoming SF Pride Parade. I hope to see you in the streets on June 30th.