Today is Harvey Milk Day. An official statewide day of remembrance for one of the most significant figures is GLBT history and the fight for gay rights. If you don’t already know, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay, publicly-elected official in the country and was out and proud when it was not at all fashionable. In fact, the idea that anyone would openly campaign for any public office as an in-your-face homosexual was not only revolutionary it was just plain dangerous. If you haven’t made any plans or are looking for something maybe to do in honor of Harvey, check out this page.
Harvey Milk was a pioneer who was every bit to they gay rights movement what MLK was for the civil rights movement. He was responsible for the shining light that is now the Castro in San Francisco. He espoused the belief and mantra that you had to be out of the closet if you were truly going make a difference in the world. He was a visionary leader who gave hope to thousands and who was, like MLK, cut down way before his time. There are many scholars who believe that Harvey Milk was only beginning his political career when he was gunned by fellow supervisor Dan White and had a real chance at becoming Mayor and maybe even Governor one day. I believe he could have done it.
I spent a lot of time studying the political discourse of Harvey Milk when I was in graduate school, in fact, it was the subject of my thesis. Harvey was a master at demonizing the radical right and rallying the disenfranchised who were all too often silenced by the majority: gays, blue-collar workers, and the elderly. He believed living in the shadows and in the closet empowered the forces of hate that kept gays down. His gospel of “coming out” helped start a cultural revolution in the City by the Bay that at the time was as homophobic of gays as the some places in the Midwest. Harvey Milk helped me to see, years after his death, that safety and security of the closet was nothing more than an illusion and that life doesn’t really begin until you muster up the courage to be open and honest about who you are with those around you.
I just couldn’t let today pass without posting a blog and taking some time to reflect on a man and a legacy that he left behind for others to follow. Harvey wasn’t perfect by any means but true pioneers rarely are. I remember often something that Harvey used to say over and over again:
The number one enemy of gay people every time, everywhere, is invisibility.
I made up my mind in 2001 that I would not be silent. I would not be afraid anymore. I would not be invisible and I have Harvey Milk to thank for that. Thank you Harvey for being so brave and so bold so the rest of us could try to follow in your foot steps.