Note: This article was originally posted by me on the website Back2Stonewall on August 8, 2012. Recent controversy over the selection and un-selection of Bradley Manning as Grand Marshall of the San Francisco Pride parade have prompted me to post this again.
The Washington Blade ran an op-ed this week [August 6, 2012] by Philip Fornaci, calling Bradley Manning a hero for allegedly leaking sensitive information to Wikileaks, and saying that gay servicemembers should consider him a role model. His argument (along with the unhinged comments supporting it) is deeply offensive to gay servicemembers who have served honorably before and after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Fornaci has a bizarre notion of the what the values and ethics of a “strong and proud gay soldier” should be. The quotes from the article speak for themselves:
If Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage. He is a role model for how gay and lesbian service members should behave in the face of violations of the U.S. Constitution by the government entrusted with defending it…
In the new era beyond “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Manning is a model of what a strong and proud gay soldier should be, but he has yet to receive the support of the broader LGBT community he deserves.
Fornaci also presumes to have a better understanding of what being a role model as a soldier is than a servicemember who responded. He took to the comments himself, writing,
A “good soldier” is not one who blindly follows orders but is rather one who respects the U.S. constitution and the laws he is bound to protect… Blind obedience to authority if [sic] fascism.
Fornaci’s supporters in the comments, a large wave of whom seem to have taken to the board, elaborate on his views and demonstrate profound lack of respect for gay servicemembers. One person refers to other soldiers as “pussies” and “wimps.” Another person writes,
Bradley Manning is stronger and has more, “guts” than any of the, “I was just following orders” dupes in uniform.
These remarks are offensive on many different levels, and the following are just a few of the reasons why:
One, to get this out of the way, both Bradley Manning’s sexual orientation and gender identity are unclear, but he may not be gay. He is believed by many to be transgender but as it has been pointed out, no one can really even say for sure that he identified this way. This hasn’t stopped some people from referring to him as ‘she’. Fornaci does not seem to understand the distinction.
Two, there is absolutely no reason to depict Manning’s treatment as a “hate crime,” as Fornaci claims, other than to try to stir up anger and depict him as somehow being a martyr for LGBT rights. There is nothing homophobic about pursuing justice against people who break the law and violate national security as Manning is alleged to have done.
Three, people who serve in the military do not get to pick and choose which orders they would like to follow. I’ve met gay people of varying ideologies who have or are currently serving in the military. Some, for example, were personally opposed to the arguments for going to war in Iraq. Others were for it from the beginning. This did not prevent any of them from doing their jobs, following orders and serving to the best of their abilities, because they knew that was what they had signed up for. They should be proud of having served.
Four, because Fornaci is saying that Manning and his actions, if he is indeed guilty, are a model that other gays should follow, his statements are effectively a call for sabotage.
Five, these types of statements play into the exact fears that opponents of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had about letting gays serve openly – that gays are undisciplined. Fornaci is explicitly saying that BECAUSE these soldiers are gay, that should predispose them to violate their chain of command. He appears to consider this a positive remark, and does not realize how great of an insult it is to gay servicemembers.
Finally, I think these remarks are a window into the hate that veterans are often met with when they return home. Members of the public often have misconceptions about the structure of power within the military and misplace anger they have about military actions undertaken by U.S. Government onto individual soldiers when they return to civilian life. Fornaci and his supporters would have us believe that it is reasonable for people to blame a soldier as an individual for not standing up for the values that they themselves believe in. For the sake of servicemembers returning home (straight, as well as gay), we can hope that this is not a majority opinion.