By Rainey Reitman
Some thoughtful feminist scholars have recently called on the Bradley Manning Support Network to begin referring to the accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower with a female pronoun. Emily Manuel’s essay in Global Comment highlighted why many of us who strongly support transgender rights are sensitive to the pronouns we use when we refer to Manning.
As an ardent supporter of Bradley Manning and a feminist, I have given this issue a great deal of thought. Given the unusual and perhaps unprecedented circumstances of the situation, I wanted to explain why I’m still calling him Bradley. In so doing, I also hope to demonstrate why folks who care passionately about queer and transgender rights should come out in support.
First, we should bear in mind the basis upon which some have made suppositions about Manning’s preferred gender identity. By and large, we are dealing with evidence that has not been established as fact. We can look at some Google searches found in forensic evidence, a smattering of late-night private chat logs, and potential testimony from those in whom Manning may have privately confided.
If these materials are to be believed, then it appears that Manning was questioning his gender identity. Manning’s lawyers have noted that he had sought counseling, but we don’t know if any final decision was ever made. We don’t know whether Manning wanted “Breanna” to be a primary identity, or if this was an alter ego that was never meant to be indicative of primary gender identification. We do know — from our own private conversations with friends and family members — that prior to his incarceration, Manning had not asked people to refer to him with a female pronoun.
The decision to transition – especially when it entails life-changing hormones or even surgery – isn’t something undergone lightly or quickly. Like many who are unsure about their gender identification, Manning used the Internet as a sandbox to begin experimenting with these complex issues. Unfortunately, he was arrested and forced to undergo many torturous months in solitary confinement, without proper medical, social, and emotional support during this time of questioning. We don’t know whether he reached a final decision.
From the earliest stages, the Bradley Manning Support Network has sought to honor Manning’s choices. Early in the campaign, we reached out to Manning’s aunt and lawyer and asked what name he preferred we use in our advocacy. They got back to us to say that “Brad” or “Bradley” would be fine.
Since then, we’ve sent Bradley packages in the mail showing him the fliers, stickers, postcards, T-shirts and photos of rallies all emblazoned with the name “Bradley Manning.” Manning has issued three public statements since his incarceration: during his first Christmas behind bars he issued holiday wishes; after many long months in solitary confinement he released a multi-page letter describing his abusive conditions; and after the pretrial hearing in December, he communicated through his aunt that he appreciated our support.
Notably, he didn’t ask us to start referring to him as Breanna. Advocates for Manning have an obligation to respect his agency and use the pronoun he had preferred prior to his arrest. None of us has the right to switch pronouns for Manning unless he tells us otherwise.
We also need to bear in mind that PFC Manning is currently – and quite literally – fighting for his life. He faces ridiculous charges of “aiding the enemy,” which carry a maximum sentence of death, despite the fact that our government’s own impact assessments found no harm to national security from the WikiLeaks materials. This extreme retaliation against Manning for uncovering war crimes stands in stark contrast to the military’s recent decisions to let other soldiers, who have admitted to killing unarmed civilians, walk free with nothing more than a cut in their pay.
This is not the normal legal environment that we may remember from our high school civics class. This is a show trial of a political prisoner. The military is openly abusing Manning of his rights in order to create a calculated psychological impact, and no doubt as a sharp warning to others who might consider exposing crimes and corruption.
Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, which carries the risk of severe psychological damage. During that time, he was on several occasions ordered to remove his clothing and stand at “parade rest” in front of his guards. Those in the military know that this position requires you to place your hands behind your back. By all accounts, PFC Manning was the only detainee at the Quantico brig who was subjected to this peculiar form of humiliation. Military officials have since refused to turn over video-recordings that they made of these incidents.
It is difficult to conclude that this very specific form of degrading treatment has nothing to do with the fact that Manning was known to be questioning his gender identity.
When pressed on the mistreatment at a White House press conference, President Obama suggested that these absurd measures were imposed on Manning for his own safety. This excuse contradicted the findings of brig psychiatrists tasked with evaluating Manning, who found on every occasion that he posed no threat to himself in custody.
In this environment, those of us who have the luxury of relative freedom need to recognize that Manning might not be able to say everything that he really wants to say. In fact, we know this to be true. There have been several occasions in which meetings between Manning and his attorneys have been recorded by the military. Military officials have blocked Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, from having a private meeting with PFC Manning. Manning has rejected an offer from the military to allow him to meet with Mendez on the condition that the meeting be monitored.
In short, Bradley Manning is being silenced. Whether through these direct restrictions on his ability to communicate freely, or more subtly through media narratives that attempt to erase his political agency, the establishment does not want us to hear Manning’s true voice.
Each one of us working with the Bradley Manning Support Network anxiously awaits the day when Bradley Manning can speak freely, unencumbered by the shackles of oppression and injustice. But until that time, we can’t presume to speak for him, especially on an issue as personal and yet political as gender identification.
Lt. Daniel Choi, who was discharged from the Army for being openly gay, recently called on the queer community to stand up for Bradley Manning. In an interview with Keith Olbermann, he decried the media’s portrayal that Manning’s sexual or gender identity was being used an excuse. He instead noted that Manning had displayed the highest level of integrity in his actions:
“I think at this point we can’t say that he did any of this or didn’t do any of this because he’s gay or transgender. He did this because he’s a good soldier… I’m proud of him as a gay soldier because he stood for integrity. And Keith, one thing about the gay community is that our community, among all of the communities in the world, we’re the only one that bases its membership -— its membership — on integrity and telling the truth about ourselves, declassifying that information for the betterment of our entire lives and societies and families. And when we do that, we realize that the gay movement is more important than just for gay people alone.”
All available evidence points to Manning being driven by integrity. At the Article 32 hearing, military prosecutors submitted a note allegedly attached by Manning to the materials they say he sent to WikiLeaks concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It read:
“This is perhaps one of the most significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.”
This seems to be the core motivation for Manning: to enlighten and educate the world, to create a better-informed democracy, to shed sunlight on the darkness covering our foreign policies and ongoing wars overseas. And, as queer activists have long known, there is power and transcendence in choosing truth, even when that truth makes others uncomfortable.
Rainey Reitman is a writer and a feminist. She sits on the Steering Committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Recalling the struggle to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
10 years later, gov’t still cleaning up the mess of failed law
Franklin Burch was ecstatic marching down the street waving a small American flag and an “Uncle Sam: I Want You” poster during the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. “Gays and lesbians have a right to serve,” the 70-year old gay vet from Los Angeles told the Washington Post on April 25, 1993. “This is America, and we have these rights.”
An estimated 700,000 LGBTQ and allies agreed, marching past the White House and pouring onto the Mall, many grasping for hope during the horrific Second Wave of AIDS. An idealistic optimism was palpable. Gays had voted en masse to elect Bill Clinton as president of the United States, ejecting the Reagan-Bush administration that ignored the deaths of a generation of gay men. Clinton had promised money for AIDS research and pledged nondiscrimination policies, including lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military.
ANGLE’s David Mixner, a Clinton friend from the anti-Vietnam War days, strenuously pointed out that the U.S. military was America’s largest employer, enabling gay people stuck in hateful environments to get out, get an education, see the world and serve their country. Not giving gays that opportunity was unfair, and therefore, un-American.
The March on Washington program opened with a stunning Robin Tyler-produced encapsulation of the moment – a sense of pride in our patriotism. To a recording of military theme songs, flag-bearing gays and lesbians who had been drummed out of the military marched onstage, accompanied by some active-duty military coming out publicly based on Clinton’s promise. Navy Officer Keith Meinhold and Army Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer ended the procession, with Cammermeyer calling everyone to attention. The crowd – including me – stood at attention, too, tears streaming down our faces at the courage of our people to serve a country that still treated us as deviants.
Then Dorothy Hajdys took the stage carrying a framed photo of her son, Petty Officer Third Class Allen Schindler, murdered six months earlier in a public toilet in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan by two shipmates. The coroner said Schindler’s injuries were worse “than the damage to a person who’d been stomped by a horse.” Schindler could only be identified by the tattoos on his arm. The March on Washington crowd gave Hajdys a 10-minute standing ovation. We knew the cost of freedom.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi read a letter from Clinton, who didn’t attend or send a video, as expected. “I stand with you in the struggle for equality for all Americans, including gay men and lesbians,” Clinton wrote. “In this great country, founded on the principle that all people are created equal, we must learn to put aside what divides us and focus on what we share.”
Liberal Democratic icon Sen. Edward M. Kennedy spoke via an audio tape, comparing our March to the famous civil rights march of 1963. “We stand again at the crossroads of national conscience,” Kennedy said.
But there were hints of a coming storm. Robin Tyler tore a Clinton telegram of apology on stage as unacceptable. “A Simple Matter of Justice” banner flapped in the background as beloved ally actress Judith Light said: “I am grateful to you, the gay and lesbian community, for the impact you are having on all of society. I am grateful for your teaching Colin Powell about equal opportunity. I am grateful for your teaching Sam Nunn about moving into the 20th century. I am grateful for your teaching George Bush about the consequences of irresponsible neglect and misuse of power. And you are in the process of teaching President Clinton the importance of being a leader and the dangers of compromising with what is right and just.”
But teaching doesn’t equal lessons learned. Clinton betrayed us, agreeing to a Nunn-devised “compromise” on lifting the gay ban called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.” Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner evoked horrific “gay sexual predator” images as they went aboard a submarine to ask sailors how they’d feel lying in such proximity to a gay shipmate. The subtext was clearly an invitation to harass those suspected of being gay and lesbian. Witch hunts were sport.
The cruelty of DADT went beyond the physical. If a buddy on the frontlines in Iraq or Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), the gay service member could not share the fear, the pain, the trauma because letters back home were checked and psychiatrists and chaplains had to report gay-related confessions. The lives of 14,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service members were ruined by the time DADT officially ended a decade later, on Sept. 20, 2011. Today, marking the 10th anniversary of the official repeal, the Veterans Administration concedes it is still catching up with all the damage governmental politics created. It’s estimated that more than 114,000 LGBTQ service members or those perceived to be LGBTQ were discharged between Franklin Burch’s service in World War II and the repeal of DADT.
“Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created. LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services,” writes Kayla Williams, a bisexual veteran and assistant secretary for public affairs in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs on the VA blog.
Clinton’s betrayal broke our hearts and ruined lives. But amazingly, it did not stop us — which attorney C. Dixon Osburn, a civilian graduate of Georgetown University Law, recounts in his just released must-read book “Mission Possible: The Story of the Repealing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” This is the stunning story of how Osburn and attorney Michelle Benecke, a Harvard Law graduate and former Army captain, founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to immediately help desperate service members and work with nonprofit allies and law firms to challenge DADT in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.
“Mission Possible” completes an important trilogy about LGBTQ people serving in the U.S. military, next to “Coming Out Under Fire,” by Alan Bérubé and Randy Shilts’ “Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military.” These books are not only LGBTQ history, but about our patriotism and what drives our private lives — and how government has intervened to block us at every step based on bias.
“Mission Possible” is also a book about endurance, ingenuity, and triumph. If a united gay voting bloc and 700,000 people on the Mall and thousands more back home didn’t give Clinton enough clout or backbone to keep his promise to lift the gay military ban – SLDN needed a smart, comprehensive strategy and a willingness and stamina to keep their eyes on the distant prize of repealing DADT. After educating an anti-military community and fighting a “graveyard mentality” that believed that lifting the gay ban was impossible, they had to figure out how to secure bipartisan support.
And there was bipartisan support, privately. “Party sticks with party, unless there’s a breakthrough, Osburn says, noting that GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski told him: “You have to create the moment so I can be with you.”
With the discharge of the Arab linguists, DADT became less an issue of civil rights and more publicly an obstacle to national security. There are scores of nail-biting behind-the-scenes stories about how SLDN shifted the public and military consciousness from July 1993 to September 20, 2011, “when President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, or recruiting and retention.”
Dec. 18, 2010 – on Osburn’s birthday – the Senate finally voted to deliver more than 60 votes to overcome Republican Sen. John McCain’s repeated and stubborn use of the filibuster to block repeal. There are echoes of political machinations of today.
There are crafty stories, as well, illustrating the absurdity of DADT. For instance, Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, Osburn writes, “was the epitome of the competent, well-regarded openly gay soldier who put a lie to the belief that his mere presence would weaken military readiness. He was out to his Army buddies and had even introduced them to his boyfriend.” In 2006 at Fort Hood, he started getting anonymous emails and “calls warning him that he was being watched and to ‘turn the flame down.’” He sought advice from his commanding officer which triggered an investigation, with which Manzella fully cooperated. The Army concluded he wasn’t gay and told him to go back to work. He was subsequently deployed to Iraq, then Kuwait, unsure whether a new commander would discharge him.
SLDN reached out to Manzella to see if he’d be willing to do a 60 Minutes interview, explaining the pros and cons if he went forward. He said yes, but how to do it knowing the Army wouldn’t grant permission? SLDN communications director Steve Ralls came up with a plan. “Manzella signed up to run in the Army marathon in Kuwait. At a predetermined point, he veered off-course to a waiting car that whisked him to a hotel, where he changed into civilian clothes and met with correspondent Lesley Stahl. After the interview, he changed back into his running clothes, the crew doused him with sweaty water, and the car whisked him back so he could cross the finish line,” Osburn writes. “Once the segment was broadcast, the Army could no longer pretend that Manzella wasn’t gay, or that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a law with an on-off switch. He was discharged six months later and became one of the many vocal advocates for repeal.”
On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama kept the campaign promise he made and signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today,” Obama said. “And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law.”
“There’s been a lot of progress in the last 10 years – despite the last four,” Osburn says. “It’s all been teed up by SLDN.”
But we still are not fully first-class citizens, though we now have the right to serve and die for our country. The Equality Act is next.
Democrats must run against ‘Trumpism’
GOP Taliban pose threat to women and all minorities
The California recall election and the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial race will make clear to every Democratic candidate in the next two years they are still running against Trump or as Gov. Gavin Newsom called it, ‘Trumpism.’ Recently in California for Newsom and in Virginia for McAuliffe, President Biden said while he ran against the real Trump, Newsom, McAuliffe and others are running against his clones.
Trumpism is a vile view of what American democracy is all about. It is a view of society in which we coddle white supremacists and Neo Nazis and hold our knee on the neck of not only George Floyd but on all African Americans, minorities, women and the LGBTQ community.
Some like Neil Buchanan, the author of the recent article in “VERDICT, Dead Democracy Walking,” suggest Trump’s election and administration were the end of American democracy. I don’t share his vision for doom and gloom and still have confidence in the majority of the American people.
However the recent Emerson poll in Virginia is frightening as it shows McAuliffe with a slight lead but independents breaking for the Republican Youngkin 54% to 35% and 9% undecided. This poll was conducted before their first debate.
It will be interesting if the new book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which clearly shows how unstable Trump was, will have any impact on voters and how they will deal with Trump-backed candidates. It is my belief, maybe hope, the majority of the American people will finally understand how dangerous he was. It is evident any Republican still supporting him, any candidate associated with him or who accepts an endorsement from him, must be considered like Trump a real threat to our democracy.
Recently Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), one of the 10 House members to vote to impeach Trump, announced he is leaving Congress rather than face a Trump-backed primary opponent. He called Trump ‘a cancer.’ Former President George W. Bush said, “Violent extremists in the U.S. and abroad are children of the same foul spirit,” in his speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. If they are to make what they said meaningful they will need to campaign against any candidate who supports or is supported by Trump.
People must be shown what will happen if they return Congress to the Republican Party or as it currently exists, the ‘Trump Party.’ They would be turning our government over to the American Taliban. The Republicans in Congress, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, are committed to curbing the rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.
How do we stop this from happening and keep our democracy moving toward a more just society? We do it by uniting those who believe as our Constitution preamble says, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Unite those who understand our democracy is about the constant effort to ‘form a more perfect union.’
Supporters of Trump, and the Republican Taliban, are making it clear what they will do if they win. Texas ending Roe v. Wade with their most recent anti-abortion law. Legislators in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other states continuing to call the 2020 election fraudulent. Republican governors putting children at risk of death by refusing to take COVID seriously and refusing mask mandates. Bills introduced in Republican-controlled legislatures across the nation to impede voting.
Congressional Democrats must pass legislation to help with childcare, make community college free, lower middle-class taxes and move forward civil and human rights. Then use sophisticated marketing and common-sense dialogue ensuring every person impacted by the legislation knows about it and understands it. Then state clearly and simply how the state legislation passed by the Republican Taliban impacts them. We must make voters understand each vote counts to protect themselves and their families.
I think we can do that but clearly it won’t be easy. Democrats in Congress will have to unite, which invariably means compromise. Everything won’t get done at once and not in the way each individual lawmaker wants it. They need to understand our Founding Fathers thought of these difficult times and set up a system of government calling for compromise to make progress. Constant progress toward a ‘more perfect union.’
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.
Global community needs to help save Brazil’s democracy
Jair Bolsonaro trying to undermine judicial independence, LGBTQ rights
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the country’s independence holiday, Sept. 7, to rally his supporters in protests against Brazil’s democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary; basically the only institution at present that checks the president’s authoritarian aspirations. Over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has provided a safe space for human rights protections, specifically LGBTQI+ rights. If the court falls, it would be the downfall of Brazil’s democracy, posing a threat to its diversity.
Over the past decade, the Brazilian LGBTQI+ community has accomplished historical victories through numerous Supreme Court rulings, including a ruling in 2013 to legalize gay marriage. While these victories were celebrated, they were also bittersweet. As the LGBTQI+ community gained ground in equality; Bolsonaro’s far-right party gained political space, and unfortunately, the hearts of some of my dearest family members.
Bolsonaro’s accession to power in 2018 came with a wave of conservative, reactionary and LGBTQI+phobic discourse that shook every aspect of Brazil’s public and private life. As the minds of minorities in the country darkened and as I fought against depression, I saw my friends suddenly rushing to register their partnerships or change their civil names fearing that the rulings allowing for their rights could be overturned. Three years later, with judicial independence under attack, our nightmares are becoming a reality.
Bolsonaro’s government has significantly impacted the LGBTQI+ movement by abolishing the LGBTQI+ National Council and significant budget cuts to Brazil’s once globally recognized HIV/AIDS prevention program. Moreover, policies aiming to fight racism or promoting gender equality are also being abandoned or defunded.
Brazil’s stability is of interest to the entire region and the world. Considering the country’s influence in Latin America, a coup could generate a domino effect across the continent. Hence, political, social, and economic international stakeholders should raise awareness and pressuring Bolsonaro’s administration
Historically, social minorities are the first ones to be sacrificed in political turmoil. As I wrote this text, news came along that indigenous land rights are being bargained and that Bolsonaro will take this attack on the environment to his speech at the United Nations. As has happened in Poland and Hungary, soon Bolsonaro will turn his gun to the LGBTQI+ community. It is clear by now that Bolsonaro envisions Brazil as a leader of far-right conservatism in the world.
That is why we need the global community to stand with us. As we take to the streets calling for impeachment, Bolsonaro still counts with the support of important stakeholders. Businesspeople are among the president’s most supportive groups, despite the economic disaster we have been through. If they can’t see the obvious internal consequences of eroding democracy, then international pressure should make them see it.
We need clear statements by political parties, foreign media, think tanks, financial groups, etc., that the attacks on Brazil’s institutions and minorities will cost the economic sector money. With this, we can unlock the impeachment process and rebuild Brazil’s legacy as a country that celebrates diversity.
Egerton Neto is the international coordinator for Aliança Nacional LGBTI+ in Brazil and Master of Public Policy candidate at the London School of Economics.
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