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Harvey Milk, & Why You Need To Know About His Life. 
8th-Sep-2008 12:38 pm

Harvey Milk is one of my lifetime heroes, and has taught me more in my 37 years about who to be - how to live - and how to fight than probably any other man on earth. If you read some of the things I write and they resonate with you because I come off as fearless or angry, because I'm unwilling to settle for less than what is acceptable, or because I will not apologize for being who I am, then you owe your respect not to me - but to people like Harvey. I am who I am for the same reasons he was, because it never occurred to me to be anyone but who I am - and there's nothing wrong with that, and I will never allow anyone to convince me differently.

In December of this year, a film by Gus Van Sant will be released called "Milk" (IMDb listing | trailer), starring Sean Penn in a stunning portrayal as Harvey Milk. This film has the potential to reach a large number of people who never knew there even was such a thing as Harvey Milk, which got me thinking about how many people still don't - even before this film comes out.

This is unacceptable. People have to know.

I've written about him before, so hopefully some of you are already on board. For those of you who are not familiar with him, I urge you to take the time - and I'm going to make that real easy for you. Steven Biko, the slain South African civil rights activist immortalized in Peter Gabriel's song "Biko" once said "It becomes more necessary to see the truth as it is if you realize that the only vehicle for change are these people who have lost their personality." He understood the necessity of civil rights for all, not some, and he died for what he believed in and fought for.

Harvey Milk was a gay man living in San Francisco, CA at a time when there were virtually no real civil rights protections for the GLBT community to secure employment, among many other things. Harvey was the owner of a small camera store in the Castro district, which has over the years become sort of a queer mecca. Before Harvey, people only lamented the fact that things were the way they were. No one had considered that this was ever going to change, and no one until this point had stood up and said in a resounding voice that would not stand to be quiet: "NO". Harvey was that voice, which is extraordinary not only because he had the courage to be that voice, but because he pioneered it. There was no map, there was no manual - Harvey wrote it all and got others on board with this journey to help pick a fight no one had ever picked before on this scale outside of the Stonewall Riots. Not because he wanted notoriety or fame for it, but because it was necessary and right and had to be done. In preparing for this fight, he knew he would be putting his own life at risk for injury or even death, but that was a small sacrifice to make he felt if it meant change - real change would result. He knew that the possibility was high that he may be assassinated, and that it was an invariable part of what he was signing up for - but that was his commitment to seeing this change come to fruition. He even says so in an audiotape he recorded that was meant to be played in the event of his death by assassination. You can hear it for yourselves here.

Make no mistake, this is not a gay thing. If you're a woman and you enjoy the civil rights protections you have, you don't just owe the suffragettes, you owe Harvey. If you're an atheist and you appreciate that there are laws protecting you from work discrimination - if you're a person of color or a person of size - YOU OWE HARVEY MILK. If you're a person who is frustrated because you see how much farther we have to go, congratulations - you're just that much more like him. Be proud of that, but don't stop at pride - don't even idle there - DO SOMETHING. He kicked in the door you walk through with no notice daily, and you'd never even have that opportunity to a large degree without his efforts and sacrifice. The reason I feel a stronger kinship on a personal level is because Harvey was first and foremost an activist at heart, which played first in everything he set out to accomplish. He meant for the world to see that a gay man was just as capable and just as able as Dr. King and meant to take care of those he felt were his community, his family, his tribe.

Harvey Milk is responsible for many aspects of me, and vicariously many others I hope. I'm very angry with any gay man who describes himself as 'straight acting'. It's insulting to me and an affront to the core of my principles as a human being, let alone as a gay man. There's nothing wrong with being gay, there's nothing wrong with being straight either - but to try and assume characteristics of or model oneself behind those who you're not and never will be presupposes that you're not capable of being yourself without restraint and without apology and you know what? FUCK that! Just FUCK THAT NOISE. Have some respect - people died for you to be that self righteous asshole, showing respect is the very least you can do. If you don't find a flaming queen sexually attractive, understand that he's not out trying to impress you - that's him being him. It doesn't mean you don't deserve being called out for treating him like he's somehow less than you are or that you're better than he is simply because you have different mannerisms and gestures. If you don't have the character or fortitude to be who you are regardless of circumstance then you should know who Harvey was simply because he was that person in the face of those who hated him for it and you can't even be that for yourself. To quote Steven Biko one more time, "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." If you're going to be a willing victim, be one on your own terms and not someone else's.

November 27th of this year will be 30 years since Harvey Milk was assassinated and yet there are people reading this now who have no idea he even existed. In 1984 there was a documentary film made about his life and work called The Times Of Harvey Milk. It won the Academy Award (as well as 7 others) for best documentary film and is an extraordinary account of what he did and who he was. If you're not sure of who he is and what he was, this is where you start. Below are links to download the film as well as the DVD extras. Please take the time to watch it and share it with others - talk to people about it and get on board with this story before the new biopic is released - and then go see that as well. Then you'll know. Then you can tell someone who also didn't know. Then they will tell someone else, and in this way he never dies, not really.

If you have trouble unzipping and/or playing these files, you may try unzipping them using WinRAR, which is what I use to compress/unzip files. It works perfectly in that. Download it from here: WinRAR 3.80 beta 5.

This .avi file might not work properly unless you have the correct video/audio codecs installed. I use this: CodecInstaller 2.10.1 - full package.

When all else fails, VLC media player is a dirty whore who'll play anything.

Please link to this post. Thank you. Have an icon or two.

"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country."

- Harvey Milk

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8th-Sep-2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
This was gorgeous. Thank you.

I think of Harvey whenever I hear someone say that they only vote in national elections because they are the only ones that matter. Harvey made them all matter.

He set the bar pretty high.
8th-Sep-2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon - Please link to this post.
8th-Sep-2008 05:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you - this was really moving and inspirational.

Thank you, in particular, for pointing out that any minority or person who as struggled for equality owes a dept to Harvey Milk and others like him. Activist like Milk aren't just fighting for the particular group that they are associated with but for the equal treatment and constitutional rights of everyone.
8th-Sep-2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
I appreciate it - please link to this post.
8th-Sep-2008 05:49 pm (UTC)
Truly there has never been a politician since who had so much passion, courage, and honesty - gay OR straight (or whatever) - and there will likely never be another in our lifetime.
8th-Sep-2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
Indeed you are right! Also - please link to this post.
8th-Sep-2008 07:14 pm (UTC)
Done and done.
8th-Sep-2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
Too bad the release date is so late. Like, Tomorrow, would be perfect timing!!!
8th-Sep-2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I know, right? Also - please link to this post.
8th-Sep-2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Of course! I usually do as you ask, sir!! :)
8th-Sep-2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
Wow, I was at a church picnic this weekend and we were talking about Milk. (And since it's a UU church, you can bet we were praising him. :-)

I've known about Milk since around the time I came out, seventeen or so years ago. I got very interested in "our" history when I came out and learned a lot. It was very disappointing to then try and talk with my fellow queers about people like Milk, like Shilts, like Phyllis Martin and Del Lyon, like Matlovich, like Hay, like Kameny, and have them all look at me like I'd grown bug eyes and antennae.

Thanks for posting this!

Edited at 2008-09-08 06:03 pm (UTC)
8th-Sep-2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
That's awesome!! Also - please link to this post.
8th-Sep-2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Terrific post--I knew about Harvey Milk first from A Letter to Harvey Milk by Leslea Newman as well as The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. I am very much looking forward to the film in December. I am most definitely linking to your excellent, passionate post.
9th-Sep-2008 12:21 am (UTC)
I appreciate it!
8th-Sep-2008 09:00 pm (UTC) - Thank you
Thank you, for posting this, for putting this information up so that those of us who don't (didn't) know as much as we should can read it and then encourage others to read it, too.

I've downloaded the video files, and I've linked to you from my own LJ.

Edited at 2008-09-08 09:01 pm (UTC)
9th-Sep-2008 12:21 am (UTC) - Re: Thank you
I thank you!
8th-Sep-2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
I've been looking for this film for a while - thanks for sharing.
9th-Sep-2008 12:22 am (UTC)
You are welcome, and also - please link to this post.
9th-Sep-2008 01:25 am (UTC)
Done, sir - and thanks again.
(Deleted comment)
9th-Sep-2008 12:22 am (UTC)
I wished I could see it in a theater with you when it comes out! Link to this if you like.
9th-Sep-2008 03:27 am (UTC)
I was in the riot that ensued in SF after the 8 year sentence for Dan White was handed down.

Interesting that ole Dan committed "suicide" after being released from jail.
9th-Sep-2008 04:21 am (UTC)
Wonderful post! I'm always amazed at how few of my fellow students have ever heard of Harvey Milk. Thanks so much for the dl, I had never heard of the film. And I will link this, of course.
9th-Sep-2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
And I didn't even know who Harvey Milk was! I don't think many people in Eastern Europe know anything about him. I had to google his biography - this one seems good enough to me.


I am impressed, I admit.
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