Statement on the New York story and Bradley Manning

In February of 2009, I was contacted online by Private Bradley Manning, who has been implicated in the release of classified material to Wikileaks. He found me via my YouTube videos, and we spoke on several occasions until August of 2009. I haven’t been in touch with him since then. Bradley first reached out to me because he was interested in the topics I discussed and felt that we were of a similar mindset. He talked to me about his upbringing and various experiences growing up, and told me about his work as an intelligence analyst with the Army. He did express some frustration at having to work within various regulations while doing his job, but this didn’t seem to be a major problem for him, and I got the impression that he was relatively comfortable with his position.

Even though he spoke about living under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and being attacked by his platoon for being gay, it seemed like he was making the best of his situation. He told me the Army was a diverse place full of people of every race, religion, and sexual orientation. He took pride in his work, even bragging about it at times. As he told me, he just wanted to make sure that everyone would get home to their families safely. He did say that he had to delete his blog and his YouTube channel for security reasons, and that he was sometimes an anonymous source for some of his friends, but at no time was there any indication that he was planning on leaking classified documents. As far as I know, he didn’t begin doing so until several months later. To me, he never seemed like the kind of person who would do that. I lost touch with him after I changed my screen name, and I only recognized that he was the one who had been arrested after I saw his username in his conversations with Adrian Lamo. I have not been in contact with the authorities, or Adrian Lamo, or Wikileaks.

In March of this year, I was approached by a reporter with New York magazine who was interested in doing a story about my conversations with Bradley. That story has been published today. I provided them with our logs because I wanted them to see a different side of Bradley. I will be releasing the unredacted logs next week so that everyone can read them. After all of the stories portraying him as mentally unstable and revealing his problems at home and in the military, I felt it was important for people to know that there was a time when he seemed satisfied with his life. He had his struggles and hardships just as we all do, although I’ve come to learn that his difficulties ran deeper than I was aware of. But he also seemed like an everyday guy, someone who didn’t stand out as a threat, and someone I never expected to do this.

In particular, I find it deplorable that some have attributed his alleged actions to his sexuality or his gender identity. There are thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world who serve their country with honor. They have not done anything like this, and who they are is not even remotely a reliable indicator that they would pose some kind of security risk. It’s clear that Bradley was facing a variety of issues that were much more significant than simply being gay, and reducing all of this to his sexuality is extremely misleading. I’m also very disturbed that one of his counselors would apparently reveal private information about his gender identity. What they talked about is an intensely personal matter, and definitely not something to be broadcast to the entire world without his consent. If that is the case, this is highly unprofessional and a severe violation of trust.

Furthermore, the conditions under which Bradley was detained at Quantico are nothing short of outrageous. The extreme isolation in solitary confinement, forced nudity, and deprivation of even the most basic amenities may very well constitute a form of torture as recognized by various legal bodies. This treatment was blatantly inhumane and contrary to the recommendations of the brig psychiatrist. Bradley has not even been convicted of a crime, yet he was subject to indefensible punishment that can easily lead to permanent psychological trauma. There is no excuse for this. Likewise, it was clearly inappropriate for President Obama to declare that Bradley “broke the law” before his case has even gone to trial. That is the venue in which it will be determined whether he broke the law – not by the president’s proclamation.

At the same time, I find that I can’t entirely agree with the movement calling for Bradley to be released. While some have argued that his actions would be covered under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, I have to wonder whether this would be a viable defense. The Act is meant to protect servicemembers who report violations of the law. Although this may encompass the “Collateral Murder” video from Iraq which apparently shows the unlawful killing of civilians, as well as certain activities revealed in the war logs and diplomatic cables, it seems inevitable that not all of the leaked material is incriminating. Much of it, while certainly interesting, is merely embarrassing, or just mundane. While I don’t know what process Bradley used to select the documents he allegedly chose to release, it seems implausible that he could have identified criminal wrongdoing in all of the hundreds of thousands of cables and war logs. His actions appear to have been mostly indiscriminate rather than targeted.

There is a reason why this is against the law. We don’t know what’s in the documents that Wikileaks and the press have chosen to withhold or redact. In this case, it’s fortunate that the material was sent to them and could be examined before being released. Someone else could have just as easily posted it all on a public website or torrent, without making any effort to remove potentially dangerous information. While many feel that the release of these files has turned out to be positive for the world overall, it’s troubling to think that the mass leaking of classified material is always something for us to look the other way on.

But whatever the outcome, Bradley deserves a fair trial – he’s already been deprived of a speedy trial, and the effects of his prolonged confinement may have caused irreparable damage to his mental well-being. Regardless of what he might have done, he is a person, and he has rights. Everyone does. I still find myself wishing I had kept in touch with Bradley when he was considering whether to do this; perhaps things would have gone very differently for him. Against all odds, I hope that he’ll be treated well, and I wish him the best.

If you’d like to contact me about this, I can be reached at [email protected], or @ZJemptv on Twitter.

Zinnia Jones
July 4, 2011

Gay people are not unmentionable

What happens when sports writing meets LGBT issues? In this case, an oblivious eruption of heterosexual privilege. AOL’s FanHouse columnist David Whitley seems to think gay relationships aren’t fit for public viewing. The issue involves the “Kiss Cam”, which scans around the crowd during breaks in the game and focuses on (usually) a man and a woman, who are then expected to kiss. This is displayed on large screens for everyone to see. Problems arose when Pride St. Louis noticed that the Kiss Cam at Busch Stadium typically doesn’t feature gay couples – only straight couples. They requested that the Kiss Cam include gay couples as well, but David Whitley doesn’t think this is such a good idea. Why?

I’d like to take the socially enlightened high road on this one, but I can’t help sympathizing with that father who’ll be sitting next to his son or daughter at Busch Stadium.

“Daddy, why are those two men kissing?”

“Umm, err, hey isn’t that Albert Pujols coming to bat?”

If you have similar qualms, does that make us homophobic? I’d like to think not, but then I’ve never sat in a gay person’s seat during “Kiss Cam.”

Does that make you homophobic? Actually, yes. And the reason it’s homophobic is because you’re holding a distinctly negative attitude toward gay couples and judging them by a separate standard from straight couples. In this instance, it’s taken the form of a notion that while heterosexuality is a very basic concept that requires no explanation, homosexuality is somehow more difficult and challenging, to the point that younger minds must not be exposed to it. This is utterly baseless, because it’s not that complicated at all. You can explain homosexuality to your children in much the same fashion that you’d explain heterosexuality to them, if they’re mature enough to understand that. It is not different in such a way as to present additional, insurmountable hurdles. A child who can understand heterosexuality can grasp homosexuality as well, without being damaged or traumatized by the mere knowledge that some people are gay.

Since you’ve never been in a gay person’s place, I’ll try and describe what it’s like. Think about the love you feel for another person. It’s something that’s fundamental to your being, it’s something that should be the simplest thing in the entire world. There is nothing wrong about your love, and there’s nothing wrong with you. You know that. Now imagine your love for someone being vilified as inexplicable, incomprehensible, and potentially hazardous to children, as if you and your partner’s mere existence and visibility constitutes a threat to their psychological well-being. As if you’re a danger to children if they so much as see you. Imagine if your love was segregated and treated differently from everyone else’s kind of love, regarded as an inappropriate subject for discussion, something that requires greater maturity and strength of mind to understand, even though you’re really no different from everyone else. Imagine your love being denigrated in all these ways, while everyone else’s love is publicly celebrated, in front of thousands, on a giant screen. A giant screen that you can’t be on.

And then everyone else would insist that it’s not because they have any particular aversion to you or anything. It’s not like they have some kind of phobia. No, they’d like to think of themselves as tolerant, as understanding, even after they’ve put you through all of that – implied you pose a threat to their children, tried to keep you out of public view – just because you don’t love the same way that they love. But actions speak louder than words, and you’d probably think that doesn’t count for much. Does that seem like a decent way to treat a person?

Whitley continues:

“Why shouldn’t we be on camera, too?”

Because I’m not ready to discuss same-sex relationships with my 3-year-old. I don’t think she’s ready, either.

But same-sex relationships don’t require any greater mental ability in order to be understood. They aren’t taxing on a child’s brain in new and different ways. They need not spark an extended discussion either, any more than heterosexual relationships would require a lengthy explanation. A child who hasn’t yet learned and absorbed the prejudices of society may very well find this easier to understand than an adult would. Why are those men kissing? The answer isn’t difficult. They’re kissing for the same reason as heterosexual couples.

Whitley tries to exhibit some tolerance, but only some:

To them, the old Shield-the-Kids excuse simply masks an underlying bias. A same-sex smooch is no different than if Nicholson had planted a wet one on Dyan Cannon. If “Kiss Cam” showed an interracial couple, would you quickly cover Little Johnny’s eyes?

No.

The sooner my kids see examples of racial harmony, the better. But this issue has torn up entire religions. Call me homophobic, but I just don’t think a 5- or 10-year-old brain is ready to tackle those complexities.

Why would you want your kids to witness normal interaction between people of different races? Presumably, because you consider acceptance of this to be an important value to instill in them, especially to inoculate them against the pernicious prejudice of racism. But if you claim to be accepting of gay people – after all, you seem to believe you aren’t homophobic – then why not also allow your children to see normal, age-appropriate, uncontroversial expressions of same-sex love, the same kind of expressions that are completely acceptable for heterosexuals? Wouldn’t you want to raise your children to be tolerant of gay people, too? To not treat them as something inferior to heterosexuals? Or is this a kind of equality that isn’t so important to you, so it’s okay if your children grow up not even knowing that gay people exist?

Entire religions may have been divided over “this issue”, but they’ve been divided by their own hand. It’s become an apparently unbridgeable gap between those who are willing to renounce their prejudice, and those who are unwilling to let go of it. The issue isn’t one of homosexuality. It never was. The issue is homophobia, the desperate clinging to an ideology that designates some people as lesser than others, in the face of a cultural shift towards acceptance and equality in society. It isn’t a problem with gay people. It’s a problem with the religions that, sometimes literally, demonize us.

And frankly, if a child is unable to understand homosexuality by 10, in the same way that they can understand heterosexuality, I would be somewhat concerned about them. Fundamentally, it doesn’t come with any extra complexities that are unable to be deciphered by young minds, and can be explained in the same age-appropriate way that you would explain heterosexuality. You don’t need to give them a crash course in 2,000 years of Christian moral theology just to point out that sometimes, people love each other.

Whitley closes with this:

If my daughter grows up and falls happily in love with another woman, I’ll proudly walk her down the aisle. But parents should be able to discuss such issues when they choose, not when the local sports team flashes them on a scoreboard.

So I understand why gays get mad at “Kiss Cam” pranks. I get why they demand equal time and respect.

I just wish they’d accept that sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss.

Is there a reason that gay couples must bear the stigma of being labeled as an “issue” – the sort of thing that should only be discussed in private, if at all? Certainly nobody considered it an “issue” to display heterosexual couples on the Jumbotron, nor did they even have to think about the prudence of exposing children to this. It’s just automatically accepted; it’s not an issue at all. So why can’t gay couples simply be treated with that very same implicit acceptance, the kind that straight people are granted without question? This doesn’t have to be an issue, and if you don’t want it to be, you can help by not making an issue of it, and treating it with the same normality and ordinariness as anything else.

Sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss, but only because you’ve decided to make something more of it.