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Feminist, trans advocates should support Bradley Manning

Wikileaks suspect sought to create a better-informed democracy

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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.

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Democrats must stop the self-immolation

We can win the presidency and Congress if we stick together

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is both fascinating and depressing, that groups like Our Revolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began in 2016 to screw Hillary Clinton, are still out there screwing other Democrats. 

They are currently trying to defeat President Biden in the Michigan primary. They couch what they are doing “as trying to influence what President Biden is doing about the Israel/Hamas war.” But, reality is, any headline attacking Joe Biden, is helping Donald Trump, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Joe Biden will not make foreign policy based on the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. They have every right to speak out, and Sanders was even willing to hurt our national security by voting against Biden’s bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, and a number of other allies. The bill even includes humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Sanders is an embarrassment. But if he doesn’t speak out against ‘Our Revolution’ he is also a hypocrite, as he claims to support Biden. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer did speak out, urging people to vote for Biden in the primary.  

Trying to influence a change in policy is fine, and speaking out for what you believe is great. But if you don’t look at the global perspective, and at all the possible repercussions of your actions and words, you are not very smart. Remember, on the issue of Gaza, if you want to support the Palestinian people, then having Trump in office is far worse than Biden. Trump claims to be best friends with Netanyahu, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he will totally abandon Gaza and the Palestinian people. So, if that is what you want in the White House, then attacking Biden so he loses a primary, and then by either voting for a third party, or staying home, for the general election, that is what you will get.

The Democratic Party can learn a lot from Tom Suozzi’s win in a swing district in New York, in the special election to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Counter to what some are saying, how he ran the race is important. He managed to turn the immigration issue around against his Republican opponent by tying her to Trump, and the MAGA Republicans who today want to leave the border open. He used the issue of abortion by highlighting his position as a pro-choice candidate, against an opponent who was pro-life. He also told the district he was willing to work with Republicans when necessary to get things done. He told the voters he understood the founding fathers set up a government requiring compromise, not on your principles, but on ways to move forward what you believe in. Yes, he is a moderate, but then so are the vast majority of Americans.  

It is clear we live in difficult times. The issue of Biden’s age is being blown out of proportion, and the media are helping to do that. Every Democrat needs to read, talk about, and share, the recent column from the New York Times, “We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.” It talks about, and explains, how we all begin to lose memory of certain things starting at the age of 30. How not remembering a name, or a date, doesn’t in any way indicate an inability to think about and work on important and complex issues. 

We also have to understand how far off polls can be, and often are, these days. What we as Democrats need to do to win this election is stick to what we know people respond to. That includes talking about Republicans wanting to restrict a woman’s right to health care, and control of her own body. It means we talk about how Trump wants us to abandon NATO, and has even encouraged Putin to invade our allies. He has no problem with Putin taking as much land as he wants. We need to remind people about how Trump staged a coup, which thankfully failed, and remind voters he will try again if we reelect him. We need to play the tape of him saying he wants to be a dictator, and will use the Department of Justice to get even with his enemies. How electing him will mean the end of our democracy. 

Democrats can win the presidency, and the Congress, if we stick together. Divided we will fail, and Trump will be in the White House. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Opinions

Pinto shepherds ‘Secure D.C.’ crime bill through Council

Republicans in Congress are closely watching measure

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D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Council member Brooke Pinto is shepherding the comprehensive crime bill, Secure D.C., through the Council. This is not easy considering some Council members are always looking to ensure we aren’t too tough on criminals, especially juveniles. In talking with Council member Pinto, she is cognizant, and reminding her fellow council members that the Republican Congress is watching this closely. 

I know Mayor Bowser is concerned about this as well. She submitted a bill, most of which is now included in the comprehensive bill, and wants to see it passed without additional amendments. On Feb. 6, the bill was passed on a first vote by the Council 12-0, with Ward 8 Council member, Trayon White, Sr., not voting. It is in his Ward most of the crime is being committed. Those living there deserve to be protected as much as those who live in Ward 3. 

As the Council now moves toward a second vote, which is needed before the mayor can sign the legislation, the plan is to do that in March. The mayor has asked that it be done sooner and that there are no more amendments weakening the bill. Once it is passed and signed, it will go to Congress for the review period and everyone is aware of what they did to the rewrite of the criminal code. Not only the Congress, but the people of the District, want a strong, tough on crime bill. People are afraid. 

Last year was a tough year for D.C. with crime running rampant in parts of the District. There were 274 homicides, a 20-year high. Carjackings were epidemic. There were 906, more than double the previous year. People are scared. A good friend recently told me it is the first time in years he looks behind himself when walking in Dupont in the evening. There was the recent shooting near the Dupont Metro on Connecticut and Q Street. The police have still not released detailed information on that. It was rumored to be a road rage incident, but the facts aren’t out. Again, people are scared, and that is not how anyone wants to live.

I am not naïve. There are many reasons one can point to for the spike in crime, including juvenile crime. The pandemic had a lot to do with that. There are young people who weren’t in school for two years, many without any supervision. Their parents were the ones out working, making a living, having to leave home to go to work. They didn’t have the option to stay home and work remotely so they could monitor what their kids were doing. Many juveniles committing crimes come from homes where there is food insecurity, and other issues impacting their lives. Clearly, we must deal with those issues if we are to change things in the long term. But the reality is we cannot wait to do that, the Council must act now. We must make those who are thinking of committing a crime understand there will be serious repercussions for what they do. 

The bill the Council is considering makes carjacking a more serious offense, as well as any crime committed with a gun. We also need to deal with the parents, or guardians, of children, like the recent 9- and 13-year-olds, who threatened a woman with a knife. Someone must be held responsible for those kids. Do they need to be removed from the situation they are now in? What is that situation? We need to involve the faith community, as well as all city resources, in this effort. However we do it, we must pass a serious crime bill that will pass muster with both the people of the District, and Congress.  

There are issues about the bill that are still being debated. One relates to drug free zones in which loiterers would be subject to arrest. Then they have removed the section that would have allowed all people arrested to be swabbed for their DNA. One issue being debated is how long one can hold both adults and youth in detention while awaiting trials. The bill would make it a felony to discharge a firearm in public, making permanent something that was put into emergency legislation last summer. 

Again, the bottom line is, for both the mayor and the Council, they must do something about crime. The debate is simply how tough to be on criminals, and what programs need to be funded that will make a difference, and make people safer. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Letter-to-the-Editor

Real Agency for Community Development helps LGBTQ Ugandans who have fled country

Yoweri Museveni signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023

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Real Agency for Community Development was established by a proactive group of people who have fled persecution due to their sexual orientation in their respective districts of origin (Isingiro, Mbarara and Ntungamo) and now live in the Nakivale refugee camp where they hoped to find greater safety and freedom.

Homosexuality, however, is illegal in Uganda and they face new challenges: Arbitrary arrests, discrimination, corrective rape, kidnapping, robbery, stigma, homophobia, harassment and bullying. RACD has identified more than 123 LGBTQ Ugandans and other refugees living in the Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee camps. The organization provides them with services depending on their unique situations.

The legal and social marginalization experienced by these people results in many violations of LGBTQ persons’ liberty and threats to their safety. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen three people arbitrarily arrested for being LGBTQ. Another two LGBTQ community members were brutally attacked by a gang of 10 homophobic neighbors in Kampala. One of them had his jaw shattered and had to get a surgery to insert a metal to his jaw. HIV prevention drugs and equipment are always a necessary part of the work with LGBTQ people and female sex workers. The general economic situation in Uganda is decreasing rapidly, and LGBTQ persons suffer the most. Many members reported that they pass many days without being able to obtain any food.

Please email [email protected] for more information about RACD. Donations can also be made to RACD through this GoFundMe link.

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