Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, right, is escorted from a security vehicle to a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. , Wednesday, April 10, 2013, before a pretrial military hearing. Manning, who is charged with causing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to be published on the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks, is scheduled to face a court martial in June. (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Racing to stanch a flow of criticism, the president of San Francisco's annual gay pride celebration said Friday that the U.S. Army private charged in a massive leak of U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website will not be an honorary grand marshal after all.
SF Pride Board President Lisa Williams said in a statement that an employee of the organization had prematurely notified imprisoned intelligence specialist Bradley Manning this week that he had been selected for the distinction, which recognizes about a dozen celebrities, politicians and community organizations each year for their contributions to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
"That was an error, and that person has been disciplined. He does not now, nor did he at that time, speak for SF Pride," Williams said.
A committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals did select the 25-year-old Manning, who is openly gay, for the honor, but the Pride Board decided his nomination would be a mistake, Williams said.
Manning's lawyers have argued that his experience as a soldier before the repeal of the U.S. military's ban on gay service played an important role in his decision to pass hundreds of thousands of sensitive items to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
"In point of fact, less than 15 people actually cast votes for Bradley Manning," Williams said. "However, as an organization with a responsibility to serve the broader community, SF Pride repudiates this vote."
Mark Wilson, right, helps carry a rainbow flag during San Francisco's 42nd annual Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP)
While the event's grand marshals are typically celebrated as they wave from convertibles during a downtown San Francisco parade, naming Manning as one was destined to be a symbolic gesture. He is in custody at a military prison in Kansas while he awaits court-martial and would have been unable to attend the June 30 parade.
Earlier Friday, Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 leaked the classified information about the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers, had agreed to participate in the San Francisco parade on Manning's behalf, said Rainey Reitman, a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network who had cheered the short-lived recognition.
"I and many other LGBT Manning supporters are deeply disappointed by this sudden change in position on the part of the committee," Reitman said. "Bradley is a gay American hero who sacrificed a great deal so we could learn the truth about our government, and he was fairly elected to serve as grand marshal in the parade."
Contingents of Manning supporters have marched in past pride parades, and will do so again this year in San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego and other cities, she said.
But other gay rights activists were less enthusiastic about celebrating Manning, arguing that he should not be honored either as an individual or as a representative of the gay rights movement.
"Manning's blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation should not be praised," said Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association. The group, which advocates for same-sex military families, had called on the Pride Committee to rescind the invitation.
"No community of such a strong and resilient people should be represented by the treacherous acts that define Bradley Manning," Peters said.