LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Turning your back will accomplish nothing

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Harvey Milk, and what he said.

“The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope.”

I’ve been thinking about it, because some in San Diego’s LGBT community plan to turn their backs on Carl DeMaio’s contingent in Saturday’s Pride parade. I think this is misguided.

We choose what we want to cultivate. Look forward, chin up, smile; say, “yes,” and say, “love.” You will cultivate hope and good things and progress.

Turn your back, cast your eyes away, and shake your head. You will cultivate nothing.

We ride on the shoulders of giants; giants who fought and spit and screamed and set fire to the bar.

Protest is a freedom, and we’re free to exercise it when we’d like. The LGBT community has made a great deal of progress through protest.

I understand this. There is a time for it. This isn’t it.

Turning your back on someone in the parade seems, to me, the lowest common denominator; a shallow melodrama. It fails to generate progress, and it’s uninspired.

This is not to say I think the people who plan to do this are shallow, or melodramatic. On the contrary, some are friends; intelligent, enthusiastic, compassionate community volunteers. I mean no offense to those friends. I think we are aged enough to, with respect, disagree on this.

I suppose what I’d like is for the people who plan to do this to consider it, and weigh it carefully. I’d much rather they pour their energy into positive manifestations of Pride. You have an audience of hundreds of thousands – what message will you send?

If it’s the spirit of protest you support, march to keep the spirit of Stonewall alive. Young people should know about Stonewall.

If it’s progress in the global march to equality you want, march for LGBT people who live in countries where LGBT people are killed without consequence; people who can’t yet dream about living out and proud.

If there’s a candidate you support, march with a shirt that says, “I’m voting for (fill-in-the-blank), and you should, too, and here’s why …”

If you want to celebrate love, and sex, and choice, and freedom, and age, and camp, and progress, and friends, and family, then jump right in.

I don’t know what Harvey would say if he was alive to see how we’ve evolved. I certainly don’t know what he’d say about the planned protest. Anyone who claims to is delusional. Harvey lived during a very different time in gay rights history. And thirty years on, who’s to say where he’d land now on this subject. Time is a goon, after all.

But I like to think about what he did say, because it motivates me to cultivate change; for myself, for my friends, for communities. Harvey, who, I like to think, chose his words and actions carefully, chose hope. So, here’s this, an excerpt from “The Hope Speech.” Happy Pride, friends.

“… In San Francisco, three days before Gay Pride Day, a person was killed just because he was gay. And that night, I walked among the sad and the frustrated at City Hall in San Francisco and later that night as they lit candles on Castro Street and stood in silence, reaching out for some symbolic thing that would give them hope. These were strong people, whose faces I knew from the shop, the streets, meetings and people who I never saw before but I knew. They were strong, but even they needed hope.

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”

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