The Politics of Abandonment: Abandoning Chelsea Manning and Siding with the State and Heteronormativity

By Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

Chelsea Manning is a hero. She stood up for American values and for the American people when she leaked classified documents to Wikileaks. Due to her courageous actions, we became aware of a number of issues, from unsavory diplomatic backdoor dealings to war crimes committed by the US military. Yet, when the time came to defend her, the American people failed. They were told by a media that has sided time and time again with the government that Manning was a “traitor who had endangered the security of the nation and other soldiers” (something that was proven false by the Pentagon no less). The American people listened and turned their back on her. Yet, the worst betrayal came from the LGBT community. We betrayed Manning – we allowed her to be fed to the wolves. It even went so far that other trans* people such as Christine Howey referred to Manning as a “trans traitor” and stated that it was “disheartening to see the transgender community saddled with another negative image”[1] in the form of Chelsea Manning.

Manning was stigmatized by the LGBT community earlier last year. In May, at the San Francisco Pride Parade, plans were made to have Manning nominated as the Grand Marshall; however, after “LGBT military groups from outside of San Francisco began to bombard San Francisco Pride’s office with phone calls and emails,”[2] the Pride Board removed her from the list and a press release was published, stating that Manning’s nomination was a “mistake” and “should never have been allowed to happen.”[3]

There is also something deeper at work here, specifically an attitude that seeks to conform. It is a mindset which plays out in one’s actions in their daily life. It is an attempt to blend in with and assimilate to the larger culture. To this end, one may even betray members of their own community and side with the group(s) of the larger culture which seek to stifle those communities. In certain communities, it is called respectability politics; in the LGBT community, it is called heteronormativity. It is this heteronormativity that became a part of the LGBT community in wake of Manning’s disclosures, which resulted in her betrayal. It is in this context that the LGBT community sided with the US government, a government that has historically oppressed them in modern times; not just in civilian life, but also in the military.

The US Government

While many were infuriated with Manning for leaking classified information, ultimately siding with the government in condemning Manning as a traitor, they failed to realize or acknowledge the fact that the US government has a history of oppressing the LGBT community.

LGBT persecution first came about most prominently after World War 2, in the late 1940s. In 1947, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee sent a list of “admitted homosexuals and suspected perverts” to the State Department; and in 1950, “a State Department official testified before that subcommittee that 91 ‘sex perverts’ had been allowed to resign in the previous three years, and that some had subsequently been reemployed by other federal agencies.” [4] This resulted in Republicans not only launching attacks against President Truman for employing gay people, but also initiating a full-scale inquiry, led by Clyde Roark Hory (D-NC), to discover why federal employment of gays was unwanted. The committee found that:

The behavior of homosexuals was criminal and immoral; they lacked emotional stability because “indulgence in acts of sex perversion weakens the moral fiber”; they frequently attempted to seduce normal people, especially the young and impressionable; and they had a “tendency to gather other perverts” around them. Probably most importantly, homosexuals were seen as security risks. On the one hand, their emotional instability and moral weakness made them “vulnerable to interrogation by a skilled questioner and they seldom refuse to talk about themselves.” On the other hand, “the pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer.” [5] (emphasis added)

Thus, from the very start, gays were seen as a threat to the United States and very likely to be traitors to their country due solely to their sexuality. This fear of gays came from the premise that they could “[hide] their true natures, allowing them to ‘infiltrate’ government in a way other out-groups could not;” yet some took this fear to the extreme, with one right-wing columnist “[charging] that ‘an all-powerful, super-secret inner circle of highly educated, socially highly placed sexual misfits in the State Department’ controlled foreign policy.”[6]

The effects of this manner of thinking were quite detrimental to the country as the government conducted massive witch hunt for gays, even going so far as to use entrapment in the case of William Dale Jennings.[7] The FBI, in a seemingly extreme measure, created a “Sexual Deviates Program.” The program was initiated directly by J. Edgar Hoover for the purpose of “purging any suspected homosexual from the federal payroll” as well as “sex deviates employed either by institutions of higher learning or law-enforcement agencies.” [8] It was amid this persecution and increased hostility that gays began to organize and fight back against a government that demonized them.

The Mattachine Society

During this turbulent and worrisome period for the gay community, some believed that it was time to organize and promote gay rights. This movement was fueled by the Lavender Scare, which “saw increased gay bar raids, homosexuals ferreted out of the military, gays being purged from government jobs, and the enactment of state and municipal sexual psychopath laws, all of which made living an openly gay life seemingly impossible.” [9] In Los Angeles in 1950, former Communist Party members Harry Hay, Chuck Rowland, and Bob Hull created the Mattachine Society, “named for an obscure medieval French group that satirized the French aristocracy from behind the safety of face masks.” [10]The trio believed that the name fit quite well, given the situation that had forced the gay community into the shadows of American society.

The FBI, after learning of the Society, began to investigate whether or not it was Communist-led or had been infiltrated by Communists, yet they were unable to find anything despite the fact that the Society had been founded by three former Communists. The Society’s first victory came in the case of the aforementioned William Dale Jennings, who had been caught in a case of homosexual entrapment. Thanks to the effort put forth by the Society, Jennings’ charges were dismissed in court when the jury deadlocked over the issue of acquittal. The court case resulted in an increase in membership, but also intensified the FBI investigation.

Los Angeles Mirror reporter Paul Coates “obtained copies of Mattachine’s lobbying questionnaires [and] published an article questioning the legitimacy of the group.” [11] He even raised the specter that Mattachine was a potentially dangerous group where a “well-trained subversive could move in and forge that power into a dangerous political weapon.”[12] Coates fed on the popular narrative that gays were susceptible to blackmail. This assisted the FBI investigation of the Society as an informant from the group was suddenly willing to provide additional information to Coates’ article.

While all of this was going on in Los Angeles, the fight to protect gay federal employees was occurring in Washington D.C. Frank Kamney, an astronomer with a doctorate from Harvard, lost a three-year legal battle to keep his job with the US Army Mapping Service. He and Bruce Scott, a former federal employee who had been forced to resign in 1956 due to his homosexuality, founded the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C. and launched efforts to lift the employment ban on gays.

The Society of DC argued that “homosexuals were a minority group, and that federal employment policies toward gays were equivalent to racial discrimination,”[13] and culminated with Kameny testifying before a Congressional committee in August 1963 and the group protesting the White House on numerous occasions in the summer of 1965. The Society finally secured a meeting with a Civil Service Commission committee in the fall of 1965 in which “Commission Chairman, John W Macy, Jr., wrote to the Mattachine Society completely [rejecting] their contention that the exclusion of homosexuals constituted discrimination against an oppressed minority and [claiming] there was no such thing as a homosexual” and “the attempt to define people with homosexual inclinations as a minority group was an attempt to excuse them from taking responsibility for their immoral actions.”[14]

Thus, we see the shaping of a history where the US government has, in civilian life, oppressed, ridiculed, demonized and shown a complete and utter disdain for gays. From cases of entrapment and spying to being labeled as traitors to their country, the anti-gay tendencies of the US government have been proven to be quite strong. However, the problems haven’t stopped there. They have also entered the realm of the military with the well-known “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy.

The US Military

The DADT policy had a horrendous effect on LGB service members. “For instance, over 19,000 service members (active-duty enlisted or officer members of the military service, including the National Guard and Reserve) experienced sexual-orientation-based discharges from 1980 to 1993, and 13,000 more were discharged from 1993 to 2009 following initiation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”[15] The military is a space in which heterosexuality and masculinity are the norm and are strictly enforced. If one does not adhere to those standards, then one is victimized and intimidated. Assaults of all types were used as enforcement mechanisms. A 2004 survey of anonymous LGB service members revealed that “experiences of discrimination and victimization in the military as related to sexual orientation were reported by almost half of respondents, with 47.2% indicating at least one experience of verbal, physical, or sexual assault.”[16] More recently, in 2010, a Department of Defense study on sexual orientation and US military personnel policy found that:

The majority of LGB respondents (91%) indicated that DADT puts gay service members at risk for blackmail or manipulation, as well as negatively affects their personal (86%) and unit (76%) relationships . Seventy-two percent indicated experiencing stress and anxiety in their daily lives because of DADT. Twenty-nine percent indicated having been teased or mocked and 7% indicated previous threats or injuries by other individuals in the military because of their own LGB sexual orientation [17] (emphasis added)

While some may argue that DADT is over, it essentially isn’t. The policy still excludes transgendered individuals such as Chelsea Manning. In fact, “the U.S. military disqualifies transgender troops for health reasons” and “for now, the Pentagon has no plans to cross that line.” [18] The military’s policy in regards to trans* people are actually quite wretched. According to Outserve-SLDN, an organization for LGBT military members, trans* people are rejected not only if they have had any type of genital surgery, but even if they only identify as transgender; as “the military considers this to be a mental health condition.” In regards to active duty military members, the military “is unlikely to provide the medical support necessary for transitioning service members,” and if one seeks outside help, “they are at risk because they have a duty to report such treatment to the military. Failure to abide by these regulations could result in criminal prosecution by the military.” [19] Many Americans viewed the fall of DADT as a victory, and rightfully so; however, there remains a serious problem for trans* people that is largely being ignored by mainstream LGBT groups.

Heteronormativity

When Manning’s case gained mainstream attention, many groups that should have went to bat for her and supported her decided to remain mute, allowing the vilification of Manning to continue unabated. Some, such as the aforementioned San Francisco Pride Parade Board, even went so far as to participate in this vilification themselves. Such activity on the part of the LGBT community constitutes not just a betrayal of Manning, but of ourselves.

Two major LGBT rights groups, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, stayed silent about Manning for the entire fiasco of her trial and never once came out in support of her. On the day of her sentencing, HRC released a statement in which they said, Manning’s transition deserved to be respected and that she deserved to be protected from violence, yet also slighted her when continuing:

What should not be lost is that there are transgender service members and veterans who serve and have served this nation with honor, distinction and great sacrifice. We must not forget or dishonor those individuals. Pvt. Manning’s experience is not a proxy for any other transgender man or woman who wears the uniform of the United States. [20]

This is essentially a message which seeks to separate Manning from the rest of the military community. It turns Manning into a ‘black sheep’ of the trans* military community, implies that she did not serve her country honorably, and only continues the campaign to isolate and ostracize her.

However, her abandonment should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially when one factors in the connections maintained by groups such as HRC and GLAAD. It was reported in July of this year that HRC had “the financial backing of major military industrial corporations, including Lockheed Martin, which is sponsoring the HRC’s upcoming national gala in Washington DC; and Booz Allen Hamilton, a corporate partner for the national event, as well as Northrop Grumman, a sponsor of their Los Angeles gala.”[21] On GLAAD’s website, they list the AT&T Foundation as one of their sponsors.[22] AT&T is paid by the NSA to provide the government agency with the communications services of their customers.[23] In light of these “business connections,” we may realize that neither of these major groups made even the slightest defense of Manning because they are directly associated with and financially reliant upon the military complex; and, if a defense of Manning had been mounted, their funding likely would have dried up rather quickly.

Another likely reason why a defense of Manning did not occur was because of her background. Manning didn’t “conform to these upwardly mobile, white, polished, virile male stereotypes” of LGBT people that both of these groups sought to portray. Rather, her “slight frame, lower-class background, questioning of [her] gender identity, inability to hold down a typical job, general dorkiness and dysfunctional family life” [24] created a situation in which she did not fit the image that either GLAAD or HRC wanted to promote.

At its heart, what this speaks to is two problems within the LGBT community: 1) There is a split between the lesbian and gay branches of the community and everyone else; and, 2) There is only one type of person that mainstream LGBT groups want to promote.

The split between the lesbian and gay branches and everyone else in the LGBT community is especially problematic. The political effects for members of the LGBT community are quite real, specifically with the separation of the GL portion that came with ignoring other members of the community. Essentially, gays and lesbians succeeded by distancing themselves from other LGBT people.

Over time, the “GL” portion of the platform became increasingly acceptable to the population at large, both through increased education and desensitization of the public and by disavowing the more unacceptable elements of the movement. At the same time, this political success fueled a separatist culture, which bisexuals and transgenders threatened to dilute and homogenize. [25]

By fighting solely for their own rights, lesbians and gays were able to attain mainstream acceptance by the larger American culture, but at the expense of other members of the community, which includes bisexuals and trans* and queer people.

Yet, it is important to note that lesbians and gays gained this relative acceptance by aligning their interests with those of the dominant American culture. Pushing for marriage equality doesn’t upset the apple cart for most people. Many LGBT rights groups want to promote a certain image of the community as was described above. This ‘selective portrayal’ can be seen on a regular basis with the people being interviewed about LGBT issues largely being white, middle and upper class, cisgendered men.

Yet, this all comes at a sacrifice. The cost of focusing on only one type of person means that the experiences of many people are lost and ignored. The experience of the black gay man, the poor white bisexual, the transgendered high school student, and countless other stories are forgotten and fall by the wayside.

By betraying Manning, the LGBT community has betrayed itself. Manning is “actually what many, if not most, LGBT people have been at one point or another – an outsider, a loner, a person who does not fit in or conform.”[26] She is an accurate portrayal of the LGBT community. Because of this, the betrayal must end and Chelsea Manning’s story must be heard.

This article was originally published in a special edition of the LGBT academic journal QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking

References

[1] Christine Howey, “First Person: ‘Trans Traitor’ Manning Adds to Transgender Perception Problem,”NBC News, August 23, 2013 ( http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/23/20153443-first-person-trans-traitor-manning-adds-to-transgender-perception-problem?lite )

[2] Kevin Gosztola, Former San Francisco Pride Grand Marshal Who Nominated Bradley Manning Details Board’s Capitulation, Firedoglake (April 29, 2013) (http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/04/29/former-san-francisco-pride-grand-marshal-who-nominated-bradley-manning-discusses-boards-capitulation/ )
[3] Victoria A. Brownworth, “Bradley Manning and Queer Collaboration,” Advocate, May 1, 2013 (http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2013/05/01/op-ed-bradley-manning-and-queer-collaboration )

[4] Gregory B. Lewis, “Lifting the Ban on Gays in the Civil Service: Federal Policy toward Gay and Lesbian Employees since the Cold War,” Public Administration Review 57:5 (1997), pg 388

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid, pg 389

[7] Dudely Clendinen, “William Dale Jennings, 82, Writer and Gay Rights Pioneer,” New York Times, May 22, 2000 ( http://www.nytimes.com/2000/05/22/us/william-dale-jennings-82-writer-and-gay-rights-pioneer.html )

[8] Athan Theoharis, “Civil Liberties: The Cost of Fighting Terrorism,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1995 ( http://articles.latimes.com/1995-04-30/opinion/op-60524_1_fbi-officials )

[9] Douglas M. Charles, “From Subversion to Obscenity: The FBI’s Investigations of the Early Homophile Movement in the United States, 1953-1958,” Journal of Sexuality 19:2 (2010), pg 263

[10] Charles, pg 264

[11] Charles, pg 267

[12] Charles, pg 268

[13] Lewis, pg 390

[14] Ibid

[15] Derek J. Burks, “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Victimization in the Military: An Unintended Consequence of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” American Psychological Association 66:7 (2011), pg 604

[16] Burks, pg 607

[17] Ibid

[18] Tom Vanden Brook, “Transgender Troops Serve In Silence,” USA Today, July 23, 2013 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/07/23/transsexuals-military-struggle-acceptance/2513153/ )

[19] Outserve-SLDN, Transgender People In The Military Service,http://www.sldn.org/pages/transgender-people-and-military-service

[20] Jeff Krehely, “Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning Comes Out, Deserves Respectful Treatment by Media and Officials,” Human Rights Campaign, August 22, 2013 ( http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/pvt.-chelsea-e.-manning-comes-out-deserves-respectful-treatment-by-media-an )
[21] Christopher Carbone, “Have Gay Rights Groups Abandoned Bradley Manning?,” The Guardian, July 30, 2013 ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/30/bradley-manning-gay-rights-groups-support )

[22] GLAAD, Support GLAAD: Foundations and Corporate Grants, http://www.glaad.org/support/grants

[23] Robert Lenzer, “AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Are Paid Cash By NSA For Your Private Communications,”Forbes, September 23, 2013 ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/09/23/attverizonsprint-are-paid-cash-by-nsa-for-your-private-communications/ )

[24] The Guardian , July 30, 2013

[25] Jillian T. Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” Journal of Bisexuality 3:3 (2004), pg 40

[26] The Guardian , July 30, 2013

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