The Politics of Private Manning

Both Bradley and Chelsea are part of the LGBT community. Shouldn't we have treated them with equal care, particularly given the extreme nature of Manning's valor, the disproportionate nature of the risks Manning took?
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I've written a lot about Bradley, now Chelsea, Manning over the past three-plus years since Manning's arrest in May 2010. Straight new reports, opinion pieces, discursive mixes of the two. Manning arrested, Manning transported to U.S., Manning kept in solitary confinement, Manning awaiting charges and on and on.

These pieces have appeared in various publications, but I've reported on Manning for The Advocate throughout that period, most recently the day after the sentencing.

Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian, Alexis O'Brien at The Daily Beast and Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake have followed and supported my writing on Manning, as I have theirs. I note this because they are three journalists whose writing about Manning has been most thorough. Greenwald, who broke the Edward Snowden story, brought Manning's story to mainstream journalism. Gosztola and O'Brien reported on every aspect of the trial. But they've reported for the straight media; I've reported on Manning for the LGBT media.

I won't -- I can't -- pretend dispassion about Manning, nor a lack of bias. To me Manning was and is heroic. Every piece I've ever written about Manning has stipulated to that, either overtly or subtextually. What we learned as a nation because of the documents revealed by Manning meant we could no longer pretend America was innocent of aggression nor innocent of killing innocents. And as Daniel Ellsberg, who was himself arrested on the same charges as Manning in 1971, told me for a piece I did in February during Manning's preliminary hearing, those revelations helped end the Iraq War, saving countless lives.

The three years since Manning's arrest have been a shadow time, however, for this story. Manning rarely made the mainstream news. Even when the trial finally started after three years of detention, a trial that lasted two months followed by a sentencing hearing that lasted three weeks, most of the mainstream news media only covered the first day of trial and the verdict, a few high points and the sentencing itself.

But some of us were there throughout, doggedly reporting on each nuance, each new twist or turn. The long period with no charges, then the ridiculous overload of charges. A push to try Manning for treason. Hints at the death penalty. The preliminary hearing nearly three years after the arrest.

I wrote about the torture of Manning, the violations of the Geneva Convention, the way Manning was kept naked in a cell constantly lit, the morning searches (what can be hidden in a naked body?), the refusal to give Manning a pillow or a blanket for fear of... what? I wrote about how Manning had become less voluble as the solitary confinement began to do what it does to everyone-take its toll, make them a little crazy. I wrote about how, when asked at a press conference about Manning's treatment, President Obama said he'd been told by the Pentagon that everything was fine, and that was enough for him.

I catalogue all of this because for the three years I have been covering Manning the silence from the majority of the LGBT community has been deafening. Each piece I have written for The Advocate has garnered a rote sameness from commenters, a strident outrage: not at Manning's treatment, but that I would refer to Manning as heroic, when the commenters -- the gay commenters -- were succinct: Manning is a traitor.

There was another position taken as well, consistently and vitriolically: We wouldn't even be talking about this if Manning weren't gay.

But Manning was gay, and as I first reported over two years ago for The Advocate, seeking counseling for gender dysphoria. No one paid attention, though. Manning wasn't -- inexplicably -- news.

Yet as I wrote for The Advocate in early June, Manning's was the real trial of the century. Manning was being prosecuted by the Obama administration with a vehemence that was stunning in its ferocity. Back in February, Manning could have been pled out: Manning stipulated to several charges, which carried a hefty sentence, though considerably less than the one meted out Aug. 21. And at any point in the proceedings Manning could have been sentenced to time served and released or outright pardoned. (There was myriad precedent for pardon, as I explained.)

Manning was sentenced Aug. 21. The LGBT hierarchy had no comment. The ACLU did. Amnesty International did. Ellsberg did. Manning's attorney read a thoughtful and, to my mind and that of other long-time Manning supporters, heroic statement of intent from Manning.

At the end Manning said:

It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

It made me weep, it made Manning's attorney, David Coombs, weep.

It did not make the LGBT community nor most Americans weep -- if they even heard it.

Then came Aug. 22 and a new statement from Manning: This time not from Bradley Manning, but from Chelsea Manning.

Suddenly LGBT people who had ignored Manning for three years were almost gleeful in their support. One lesbian I know tweeted that she'd like to be friends with Chelsea. But she'd never once mentioned Bradley in three long years. What had happened overnight to make people who had ignored Bradley Manning's long suffering suddenly embrace Chelsea Manning?

Reporters who never noticed then-Bradley Manning or the torture endured by that young gay man suddenly cared about the blonde, lipsticked Chelsea -- even though they are the same person. The Daily Beast -- the same newspaper that had covered Manning so assiduously via Alexis O'Brien's stellar reporting, ran a repulsive piece by Mansfield Frasier about how life is pretty cool for transwomen in prison and prison rape is really a fiction and Chelsea Manning would do fine, no problem.

What does it mean? What does it mean that I spent three years arguing with so many people in the LGBT community about who Manning was and why Manning was important not just to our own community, but to America as a whole, only to be told that I was trying to turn a traitor into a gay hero?

What does it mean that there was a brutal fight in San Francisco in May over making Manning Grand Marshall (in absentia) for San Francisco Pride and that the furor spilled out into the city's politics when the leaders of San Francisco Pride refused to let Manning be Grand Marshall?

I reported on that debacle and how it exemplified the problems between Manning, Manning's supporters and the LGBT community.

Lisa L. Williams, San Francisco Pride board president, issued a disturbing press release. Williams stated emphatically that Manning's nomination was "a mistake and never should have been allowed to happen." Williams also blamed a rogue member of the committee that chooses the marshals and said he "had been disciplined."

What was worse: the recision of the honor or the language with which it was rescinded?

I was left dumbfounded by the whole experience. How could the gayest city in America turn its collective back on the most heroic member of that community?

After such a public display of disavowal, why has LGBT America suddenly embraced Manning three years too late to help? How is Chelsea different from Bradley when they are the same person? Why does every website now have Manning's address so people can write to the prison when none had ever before even suggested such a thing, even as Manning was being considered by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and was desperate for support?

Is there some subliminal difference between a male and female whistleblower? Is it easier for America -- LGBT or heterosexual -- to accept the blonde-haired, lipsticked Manning who now looks, as one straight male reporter I know noted, "hot," than the slight, effeminate soldier who always seemed too small for his uniform? Is it easier to feel empathy toward someone who has been struggling with gender dysphoria rather than with an angry gay man enraged by the strictures of DADT -- since those are the two faces of Manning? Would the Obama administration have prosecuted Chelsea Manning with the ferocity it prosecuted Bradley Manning?

One transwoman friend of mine said she didn't trust the change. "It takes a long time to transition," she said, and wondered how Manning could live female in a male prison. Another transwoman I know, who has insisted Manning is a traitor all along told me this changed nothing for her. "I admire what she's doing, coming out about her gender," she said, "but I still think what she did cost lives."

I still hope for Manning's pardon, although given the Obama administration's stance on whistleblowing, that seems unlikely. Will the gender change make a difference to the White House in the appeal for a pardon? I don't know -- the blonde Chelsea seems to have won the hearts the pale, frail Bradley never could.

Both Bradley and Chelsea are part of the LGBT community. Shouldn't we have treated them with equal care, particularly given the extreme nature of Manning's valor, the disproportionate nature of the risks Manning took?

It is to be hoped that Chelsea will receive the support Bradley never did. But if that is the case, the LGBT community needs to search its collective conscience and ask why.

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