Saturday, May 22, 2010

Harvey Milk

May 22, 2010 would be Harvey Milk's 80th birthday.  I'm almost too ashamed to admit it - but nearly all of my knowledge of Harvey Milk came after the biographical film was released in 2008 and subsequent research I've done in the days since.

I lived in California, less than 100 miles from San Francisco, when Harvey Milk was elected as the first openly gay city supervisor.  Sadly, however, I don't have much personal recollection of the events.  I do recall my parents talking about it briefly in a "what is the world coming to?" sort of tone; but, I was young, still in high school, and not too interested in current events.  I was serving on my LDS mission in Missouri when he was shot and killed in 1978 and was not even aware that it had happened.

Contrast that to a year earlier, while on my mission, when Elvis Presley died - when my companion and I were having to console one of our investigators who was totally distraught over the news.  The sad truth is, on the national stage, Harvey Milk was barely a blip back in the 70's.

While Harvey Milk's influence may have been localized during his life - his vision has grown since his death to be larger than life.  I imagine more people today could tell you who Harvey Milk was than could tell you the name of their state legislators.

His legacy has left us with the following memorable quotes
“My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you.”

“I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects … I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”

“More people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, my friends, that is true perversion.”

“all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

“If a bullet should go through my head let that bullet go through every closet door.”

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you… And you… And you… Gotta give em hope.”

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

“Hope will never be silent”
While the world is not perfect, it is a safer environment for homosexuals today than it was during Harvey Milk's lifetime - Regardless of where we are - married, partnered, or single, sexually active or celibate, believer or non-believer - all of us have benefited from the tireless hours he, and others, put forth for our behalf.

Let us not forget - and keep his memory alive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that in the 50's you didn't come out; you got caught.

A friend told me you could go weeks without a single sign homosexuality existed.

Another friend told me gay bars weren't safe because the person you were chatting up might turn out to be a cop.

Propositioning someone, holding hands, even dancing with a same sex partner were crimes.

But then the Mayor of San Francisco was quoted as saying there were 30,000 homosexuals in San Francisco.

Of course, he had no way of knowing this but it didn't matter.

Gay people from all over America heard it, packed their bags and moved to San Francisco.

What San Francisco proves is that a little real estate is all we needed for major changes to occur.

In the world of unintended consequences, we owe a lot to that Mayor.

But it seems even in San Francisco that gays did not come out in any significant numbers until people like Harvey Milk lead the way.

So, yeah, thank you Harvey Milk.