One of the signature traits of LGBT subculture in the United States is its adoration of celebrity. If a well-known person voices the most milk-toast notion that gays are human beings, let alone deserving of legal equality, banner headlines in the gay press are guaranteed. If the celebrity comes out as gay, even more effusive coverage is given.
Any number of fading stars and starlets, and non-entities on the make, from Lady Gaga to Chaz Bono to Ricky Martin, have mined the LGBT community to support their careers. Our community’s eager rush to embrace just about any celebrity who deigns to notice our existence is emblematic of our lack of self-esteem, our internalized homophobia.
So why is it that all of the big gay non-profits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – “Gay Inc.” – have failed to utter a word of support for Private Bradley Manning, let alone really campaign for him? He’s gay, has moderately high name recognition, and unlike any number of air-head celebrities, he’s actually done something to support social justice, rather than mined charitable causes for personal fame and fortune.
Manning’s contributions to human rights have been recounted frequently enough to require only a brief recitation here. He exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq    and Afghanistan. His exposure of the corruption of the oligarchy in Tunisia helped kick off the ‘Arab Spring,’ toppling U.S.-supported dictators around the region.
He exposed the Obama administration’s support for the 2009 military coup in Honduras , the first successful Latin American coup in a decade and half, that led to a wave of violence against LGBTs and others, making it the murder capital of the world.
The list goes on. No less an authority than Daniel Ellsberg, exposer of the Vietnam War era Pentagon Papers, has said Bradley Manning “is a hero in my heart. He did what he should have done.”
Besides the Honduran angle – 89 LGBTs murdered over three and a half years in a country of less than 8 million, including leading activists like Walter Trochez and Erick Martinez Avila – there are other LGBT angles that NGLTF and HRC could have highlighted. The sexually humiliating torture that Manning received, stripped naked in a cell for days on end, ordered by no less than a two-star general – was tinged in homophobia, and yet where were the protests from the gay human rights groups? Not even a token press release.
If a homophobe had so much as broken Chaz Bono’s finger nail, rest assured that assured GLAAD, NGLTF and HRC would have been on the case. But why the silence about Manning?
It’s political cowardice. A failure to take on “difficult” political subjects, particularly when doing so might bite the (Democratic Party) hands that feed them. This same failure of political courage is why gay NGOs routinely fail to take on powerful anti-gay forces like the Mormon Church and Catholic Church leaderships, frequently allied with powerful local and national Democratic politicians, even when these religious leaders are pushing discriminatory referenda like Prop 8. Even when such failure spells defeat for gay rights (unlike back in the day when Harvey Milk, et al., took on Anita Bryant and the Briggs Amendment, and won).
It’s why they take a pass on opposing pink-washing of apartheid in Israel, when they’re not directly participating in it, while the Obama administration funds Israel to the tune of a record $3 billion a year. And while they may whine about budget cuts that hit AIDS funding and other social services, you won’t hear them denouncing the Obama administration’s military spending (equal to the rest of the world’s combined), let alone its wars from Yemen to North Africa to Afghanistan that drive it.
Bradley Manning’s great sin, in the view of the gay NGOs, was in exposing not just the depravity of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but Barack Obama’s as well. The fact that it is Obama’s Justice Department that is prosecuting Manning makes it so much the worse. That his Justice Department has prosecuted more whistle-blowers than the combined total of every President who preceded him is a particular embarrassment.
Since the late 1970s, gay NGOs have effectively acted as an adjunct of the Democratic Party, which is why they were “shocked, shocked” when Bill Clinton gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. One would never know from Gay Inc’s pronouncements that the two biggest legislative attacks on gay rights of the last century were undertaken and vigorously defended by Democrats.
At the end of the day, Gay Inc. sees its source of jobs in Democratic administrations, its executive directorships with six-figure salaries, its charity balls and other celebrity-driven hoopla as more important than gay rights. And when individual LGBTs like Bradley Manning through their own courage expose the human rights fakery of Democratic politicians, they can twist in the wind.
Just as much of the anti-war movement was “anti-war” only when a Republican president was leading the wars, much of the gay movement is pro-gay only when it’s non-Democrats who are anti-gay.
The Obama administration is leading the attack on the most important whistle-blower of our era, a gay man whose persecution was tinged with homophobia. The Honduran coup, which it supported and Manning helped expose, is murdering LGBTs and others at a horrific rate. While Gay Inc. keeps quiet, while lapping up favors from its political allies, we must not.
Andy Thayer is a co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network. He can be reached at LGBTliberation@aol.com