Monday, September 08, 2008

Harvey Milk

They’re making a big-budget, big-star major motion picture on the life and death of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was in some ways to the gay community what Martin Luther King is to African-Americans. It’s taken them thirty years to do it, but far better late than never.

Some years ago, an excellent and moving documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk won an academy award, and plans for a full length, mainstream movie have been on various burners and back burners for years. It finally took producer Gus Van Sant to bring it off. Starring Sean Penn as Harvey, it has an A-list cast. A trailer for the movie, which will be released in November, can be seen on YouTube (just go to YouTube and type in “Harvey Milk Movie”). It’s well worth watching.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (or, I think, to any elected office in the United States), and he became a symbol of pride and a rallying point for 20,000,000 gay and lesbian Americans. If Harvey could do it, other gays could do it...and subsequently did.

I’ve said often before that people who are not a member of a minority—and particularly of an historically persecuted and harassed minority—simply cannot comprehend the power and importance of a sense of validation and pride: the feeling that you have dignity as a human being and, together, can accomplish seemingly impossible goals. And Harvey Milk engendered these feelings within the gay community

Harvey was an unlikely hero. He was just an average guy running a small camera shop on Castro Street when he decided to take on the city’s political establishment and run for Supervisor. And at a time of the rampant bigotry of people like Anita Bryant and attempts to pass laws banning gays from teaching in California schools, he rallied not only the gays of his district in San Francisco, but of the entire city and the entire country.

And when he was assassinated, with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, on November 27, 1978, by former Supervisor Dan White, the shock and grief felt by every gay and lesbian was no less strong than African Americans’ reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King. Harvey was one of us. He gave us a great sense of pride, and to lose him was devastating. And then, when White was sentenced to only two years for the double murder, based on an incredible “defense” of having been on a sugar high from eating too many Twinkies (!!), the shock erupted into rage which led to the worst riots in San Francisco’s history.

But as so often happens as a result of the assassination of leaders, from Harvey Milk’s life and the reaction to his death came the iron-clad resolve for change, and gays began a march for equality which, though not yet over, has changed the nation.

Harvey would have been proud.

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