“It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” -- Harvey Milk, in a 1973 speech during his first unsuccessful run for supervisor
Every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in America needs to get to know Harvey Milk, the gay rights advocate and politician who was assassinated in 1978.
Here in California, May 22 is Harvey Milk Day, a state holiday established in 2009 to honor Milk’s memory.
Sadly, many LGBT youth are unfamiliar with Milk and what he stood for. Unless they watched the 2009 Oscar-nominated film “Milk” and watched Sean Penn’s Academy Award-winning performance in the title role, they are unlikely to know much about the San Francisco transplant who made history as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California in 1977.
“It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.” -- Harvey Milk, after winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in 1977
Milk’s stunning election energized the LGBT community nationwide, inspiring others to follow him into politics. He became a symbol of the gay-rights movement, and his eloquent speeches proved inspirational on a grand scale.
“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.” -- Harvey Milk, 1978
In rewatching the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” one cannot help but think that the LGBT movement of the 21st century has strayed far from Milk’s message. Milk tackled neighborhood issues such as rent control, limits on high-rise buildings in the city, public transportation, and the rights of senior citizens and the disabled. Milk supported the rights of all minorities, not just that of the LGBT community.
Today’s LGBT movement has seemingly lost sight of the big picture. LGBT rights are human rights, and the rights of other minorities must be fully supported by the LGBT community or else those minorities will not support our quest for equality.
In places like Uganda, where the “Kill the Gays” bill remains in limbo, human rights are being violated as well LGBT rights. As we urge politicians and activists across the globe to condemn the David Bahati bill that criminalizes homosexuality, which is backed by American evangelicals and right-wing fanatics, we should also be supporting all Ugandans who have watched their rights erode through a corrupt government that is violently clamping down on public unrest.
“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, is true perversion.” -- Harvey Milk
A man ahead of his times, Milk recognized that all young people face an uphill battle while growing up. Bullying is not exclusive to the LGBT community.
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” -- Harvey Milk
In the late 1970s, despite sweeping social change spreading across America, Milk was still considered too controversial and too revolutionary for many, even in San Francisco. And he knew it. He even had a hunch that his message could get him killed.
“I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes the target or the potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed with themselves.” -- Harvey Milk, on a tape he made to be played in the event of his assassination
On Nov. 27, 1978, just 11 months after his election, Harvey Milk, along with Mayor George Moscone, were assassinated at City Hall by Dan White, who had recently resigned as a supervisor and was unsuccessfully fighting to get his old job back.
The unofficial “Mayor of Castro Street” was dead. So too was Mayor Moscone. The city mourned, and so did the nation.
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” -- Harvey Milk
Listen to the voice of Harvey Milk. Listen carefully to his words. Let him serve as an inspiration to us all to fight to LGBT rights as well as the rights of all minorities around the world.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.
Editor’s note: The Harvey Milk quotes were found at Gay Rights Media.