Adam Polaski

Bradley Manning's Role in the LGBT Community

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 05, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, Firedoglake, Greenwald, Julian Assange, LGBT, queer, WikiLeaks

BradleyManning.jpgIt seems like new information about the intriguing past of Bradley Manning, the man allegedly behind the first major document dump from WikiLeaks, is surfacing every few weeks. Now, in a new piece for New York magazine, writer Steve Fishman has uncovered that Manning, a gay man, was questioning his gender and dealing with daddy issues.

Manning has been in prison now for over a year, taken in for a number of serious charges, including "aiding the enemy" and illegally transmitting defense information. The information he leaked back in April 2010 includes the now-infamous "Collateral Murder" video and startling data about the number of civilians killed by coalition forces in Afghanistan. Manning has endured terrible mistreatment in detention and has not received a trial.

The New York article paints Manning as an intelligent hacker who was torn about his role in the U.S. military's actions in the Middle East. It parallels this confusion with Manning's alleged gender questioning and homophobic abuse by fellow soldiers. We've already seen information about Manning's long-term boyfriend, been privy to his Facebook page that demonstrated an emotional, but tumultuous, relationship, and read that he marked the CD featuring the classified information as "Lady Gaga."

Using newly uncovered chats with Internet user ZJ Antolak, who befriended Manning online, Freedman explains more about Manning's life:

When the computer was turned off and his Army comrades returned, his superpowers disappeared. The members of his platoon didn't consider Manning a warrior, not like them. He's five foot two and 105 pounds, as "tiny as a child," one former soldier said. Military policy dictated that he hide his sexual orientation, but it probably wasn't a secret to his platoon. "It took them a while, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me," he wrote to ZJ, "heating up with one or two physical attacks." Though, he assured ZJ, "I fended [it] off just fine."

The harassment didn't get better, and partly because Manning was not allowed to openly discuss his non-heterosexual orientation with anyone because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, he endured the bullying and took to the Internet to vent about his life to his anonymous online friends.

Freedman continues:

Meanwhile, Manning's concerns about his sexual identity were intensifying. In November 2009, he made contact on the web with a gender counselor back in the States. When I met the counselor, he was easygoing and upbeat for someone who'd spent hours talking to servicemen who believed they were inhabiting the wrong body. He knew what he was talking about, though. In person, his gender was difficult to discern--he'd begun his transition as a teenager. "Bradley felt he was female," the counselor told me. "He was very solid on that." Quickly, their conversation shifted to the practicalities: How does someone transition from male to female? "He really wanted to do surgery," the counselor recalled. "He was mostly afraid of being alone, being ostracized or somehow weird." To the counselor, it was clear Manning was in crisis.

File:Bradley Manning rally, August 2010.jpegThis new information reveals more than ever before about Mannings' role as an LGBT person in the military. It should fuel the efforts of LGBT advocacy groups who are specifically championing Manning as an important figure in the LGBT rights movement.

The Bradley Manning Support Network has reported that Manning is "increasingly hailed by LGBT activists as a hero," and the Gay Liberation Network has contributed to the "Free Bradley Manning" movement. And despite this support from some organizations, Firedoglake writer Kevin Gosztola reports that most of the LGBT community doesn't know who Bradley Manning is.

But it's not particularly egregious for LGBT people specifically to not know about Manning. He's a hero, yes, but not a hero for the LGBT movement. What's more troubling is that people across the ideological board - even progressives - seem unaware of Manning's important role in WikiLeaks, the push for transparent government, and his incredible mistreatment in prison. His actions should be celebrated by all progressives, and his imprisonment should be continually challenged.

If you haven't been keeping up with the WikiLeaks story or Bradley Manning, check out Glenn Greenwald's excellent reporting and analysis of the issue at Salon. Here's a good summary of Greenwald's take on Manning, from his latest article on the subject, published yesterday as a response to Freedman's New York profile. Greenwald argues throughout the piece that Freedman misrepresents Manning as someone who took drastic actions as a result of psychological imbalance. His actions, instead, should be construed as rational, noble, and good for democracy. Greenwald writes:

There's no doubt that it's illegal for a member of the military to leak classified or secret documents - just as there was no doubt about the illegality of Daniel Ellsberg's leaks, or a whole slew of other acts of civil disobedience we consider noble. The fact that an act is legal does not mean it is just, and conversely, that an act is illegal does not mean it is unjust. Many people enjoy hearing themselves condemn the acts of tyrants and imperial forces in the world. If the allegations against him are true, Bradley Manning knowingly risked his liberty to take action against those acts, in the hope of exposing those responsible and triggering worldwide reforms. It's hard to dispute that these leaks achieved exactly that, but even if they hadn't, his conduct is profoundly commendable, and the world needs far more, not fewer, Bradley Mannings.

Update: This piece originally incorrectly identified ZJ Antolak as a hacker. He and Manning began talking when Manning approached ZJ about his YouTube videos.

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Adam, Austen Crowder had a post on Bilerico about Bradley's likely transgender status 7-8 mos. ago. I don't bother ID'ing someone as a 'hero' one way or the other... people and situations are too complicated. I agree with what Bradley did, especially making the helicopter attack video public. Do I think Bradley made a horrible personal choice going into the military... yes. But some people get stuck in a corner and see that as the only way out. In Bradley's case, it just made the persecution and confusion even worse. There are lots of trans people who later transitioned but previously joined the military for very confused reasons. Whether or not Bradley is an LGBT hero is irrelevant. Manning was (or is? ~we have to take the government's word for it) a queer/trans person being grossly maltreated and the entire Wikileaks episode just shows how little sunshine their is in our supposedly democratic system.

And I wish one 1/10th the stink was made about Richard Armitage purposely outing a CIA agent as has been focused at Bradley Manning. Manning was a very low level person, Armitage was near the top (and likely acted with orders from the very top)... who's in prison for that one?

Ginasf, thanks for reading and commenting. I agree that it's difficult and often inconsequential to label someone as a hero. But Manning's actions here, I believe, were heroic and courageous - his decision to pass off that information to WikiLeaks hasn't resulted in any deaths, as Greenwald has noted, but it did expose the pointless deaths of many civilians and a bevy of other missteps by our government.

Again, the label doesn't really mean anything. I do think it's interesting that Manning's being talked about as a hero for LGBT people specifically. This is something I'm still confused by. His maltreatment by the government is not because of his sexuality/gender identity but because of his apparent "transgressions" against the country.

Adam, it has been quite clear for over a year now that Bradley Manning is likely a heterosexual, transsexual woman, and I for one, am finding it increasingly offensive that writers on this topic presume to choose Bradley's pronouns without Bradley's consent.

That said, I don't see Manning being help up as a hero for the LGBT community, but Manning's case is certainly being watched closely by the community, especially by some parts of the trans community, as an example of the treatment of trans people by the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex.

To suggest that perceptions of Manning's sexual orientation and/or gender identity play no part in the severity of Manning's abusive treatment is disingenuous to say the least, regardless of whether or not you believe the actions Manning is accused of committing, charges on which Manning still has yet to be formally arraigned may I remind you, were justified.

As for the article itself, well, I got the first comment there. I hope the counselor is tracked down and has his license removed from this inexcusable breach of confidentiality.

You beat me to it, Gina. I was just going to point out that Austen broke the news that Manning might be trans over a year ago.

BUT - and I think this is vitally important - the only source we really have for any news is the government and the people connected to it. There's a good chance that Big Bad Uncle Sam is just trying to portray him in a manner that might lower his level of public support. I wouldn't put it past them. Believing the government on shit like this is impossible.

Thanks for referring me to Austen's piece from last year - I wasn't aware of the other chats.

Laurel Ramseyer | July 5, 2011 2:46 PM

What kind of counselor blabs intensely personal information like "Bradley felt he was female" to a reporter? The very fact that this counselor would divulge such intensely private information completely undermines his credibility in my eyes in discerning whether Manning is or isn't trans.

Unfortunately, the first evidence that Manning may very well be a heterosexual trans woman rather than a homosexual cis man was published over a year ago, but it has remained until now nothing more than speculation, as the Manning-Lamo chat logs which included Manning's thoughts may have referred to something else entirely.

Unlikely as that prospect is, the comments from the counselor are the first published (to my knowledge) concrete and credible confirmation of the seeming intent behind Manning's alleged words. You may remember that I brought this up a couple of months ago on PHB when the PBS documentary ran, which spared no effort in painting Manning as a homosexual cis man, never mentioning the evidence mitigating against that idea.

Sadly, it will be practically impossible for Manning to receive a fair trial, and we passed that point long ago, almost immediately after Manning was identified and arrested. Even the President has publicly assumed Manning's guilt, and given that the President is the Commander-In-Chief of those organizations which will try Manning, eventually, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the prejudice against Manning clearly goes to the very top of the command structure.

I agree that a therapist/counselor blabbing about what happened with a client speaks volumes for any respect they don't deserve as a professional (and for future credentialing). To say that it suddenly makes all the info they blabbed suspect is a big step. I disagree. Moreover, Manning's trans status first appeared in posts Manning made on certain hacker forums and to communications with gay hacker Adrian Lamo, so this is hardly the first instance of discussing it nor 'breaking' some big story.

A larger question is... why did Gay media and press choose to ignore this information even though it had been made public in a number of sources? Could it be kind of like the Lawrence King, Constance McMillen and the Lopez Mercado stories... when it's convenient, gay media outlets choose to ignore the gender/trans issues and stick with 'the ghey?'

You mean like the Daily Kos article referring to the Weekly Standard's "Not a Parody" of the New Republic cover as "homophobic" rather than "transphobic"? Funny how quick teh ghey is to appropriate teh trans when it suits their purposes, yet so quick to disavow us when it doesn't, no?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 5, 2011 3:18 PM

Bradley Manning is a GLBT hero and an antiwar hero. Few people can be said to have changed history and fewer still to have changed it for the better. Bradley Manning is one of them.

The vast changes sweeping the Arab/muslim world have deep roots but were triggered by Wikileaks material (which he's alleged to have a role in) about the right wing pro-American regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. What's important is to defend Manning from the Obama administrations torturers and those who want to legally murder him in the name of 'national security'.

Bigots like Obama and H. Clinton hate Manning for what he's alleged to have done. “Hillary told staff that she could not fathom how an army private, Bradley Manning, with psychological problems and a drag-queen boyfriend could single-handedly cause the United States unprecedented embarrassment just by labeling massive downloads as Lady Gaga songs.” http://www.bradleymanning.org/news/hillary-clintons-remarks-about-bradley-manning

Perhaps at some point we'll hear more from Manning on the question of his sexuality but until and if that happens whether he's gay or transsexual is seconday to the main question before us which is that Obama and H. Clinton want to murder him.

I feel I should point out that I'm not actually a hacker of any sort. Bradley contacted me because he took an interest in my YouTube videos - there was no discussion of any hacking.

Thanks for clearing that up ZJ. Anyone who thinks the secret police aren't watching the blogs, including this one, for any scrap of information is kidding themselves.

Gemma and ginasf: Thank you for your comments. I was going to log in and make them myself but you beat me to it. To reiterate: any declarations that Manning is "gay", or use of male pronouns should really cease and desist until we hear definitively what Manning prefers.

ZJ: I'm a fan of your Youtube page myself! Thank you for what you do, and I hope you aren't getting too much unwanted attention from this new article.

Thank you, Mr. Pulaski. The Democracy Now website has just posted a long interview w/ Julian Assange that sheds alot of light on the motivation behind Wikileaks.We must remember that Bradley Manning has not been found guilty of anything, he has not even been charged!As far as ties to the LGBT community, his actions (alleged) had nothing to do with that. What is sad and relevant, is that due to his Trans status, I am sure he was and IS in military custody subject to even more horrible abuse than otherwise. The LGBT community needs to be aware of Bradley Manning, what he (allegedly)tried to do, his motivation, and the abuse he is subject to in the hands of the Govt. Democracy by definition is an open form of Govt., of, by and for the people, all of us! Bradley Manning was only trying to bring that to be. My thoughts are with him!

Inhumane treatment in the brig/stockade is inexcusable. Having said that, Manning is no hero. He is accused of disseminating information he had no legal authority to release. If he had information about superiors covering up a crime, there are channels that he failed to explore before his mass release. It is time to stop messing about and stand him up before a court martial and convict or exonerate him.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 6, 2011 11:54 AM

Anyone getting in the way of the Obama administration's six (and counting) genocidal, predatory wars for oil, land, military bases and resources is a hero.

Anyone trying to protect Arab/muslim civilians and GIs from having their lives wasted by ending those wars is a hero.

Rendition - or some combination of kidnapping, torture and murder of citizens and non-citizen military and political prisoners - has been the policy of choice under Clinton, Bush2 and Obama. Brad Manning's case falls into that category and is being prosecuted by Obama, an anti-gay bigot who, inexplicably, is still getting support and contributions from GLBT Democrats to get reelected and continue crimes.

Based on the Wikileaks material the time to call for an International War Crimes Tribunal regarding the crimes of both Bushes, both Clintons and Obama is long overdue.

Brad Bailey | July 6, 2011 6:13 PM

Don't forget about Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra, of which the World Court found the U.S. guilty of exporting state-sponsored terrorism.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 7, 2011 12:12 AM

People like me trace it back to King Phillips War.

In his excellent book 1491 Charles Mann describes some earlier examples of the kind of courage exemplified by Brad Manning.

Young Irish, Scottish and English (Quaker) colonists, many of them indentured slaves or penal colonists, ran free and fled to the frontier to enjoy the life of free people as adopted members of Indian nations. They were often joined by escaped African chattel slaves. This happened so often that it became a death penalty crime in some colonies.

Indian peoples taught them personal hygiene, some of the rudiments of conduct in what were functioning democracies, some matriarchies like the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, and Seneca nations of the Iroquois Confederation .

Native peoples gave the often malnourished escapees ample food - they were expert agriculturalists and hunters - for the first time in their lives.

They welcomed them and many crossed back and forth between the two world, forever changing both and creating a new mixed or mestizo culture, much of which survives to this day. Many of the political ideas of the Iroquois Confederation were incorporated in the US Constitution.

cybergrace | July 9, 2011 2:44 AM

Bradley Manning is a huge hero by any criteria. He saw racist murders going on, by reckless shoot 'em up soldiers. He complained to supervisors. All he got was disrespect. We are a very lucky nation to have someone as patriotic as Bradley Manning to force out country to deal with the malignant evils going on in our name that we did not know about. As a queer I am SO PROUD! Bradley Manning should be free and teaching at West Point, then we would not have these horrible wars. Then there would be money for school, homes and food at home. Bradley Manning is the very best!!

Gawd... how freaking annoying as being referred to as "the ghey".
Especially from straight transexual women who would loose their ever freaking petticoats over being generalized as "the trannys".

I'm a lesbian transsexual woman. If I want to make fun of being homosexual in a light, tongue-in-cheek manner, then I have every right. The term used wasn't "the ghey", it was "teh ghey" (and, I must also note, "teh trans"). The misspelling is intentional and significant slang that indicates the inflation of the idea of being homosexual to colossal and undeserved magnitudes to the point where it takes on a ridiculously overinflated significance in our lives.

Go for your RIGHTS Gemma!!! YOU are a lesbian sista.
I obviously wasn't posting about you then.

I prefer my tongue on something other then my cheek.