According to people who knew him, some of whom are friends of mine; Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was no saint and not an easy man. He had a temper and a stubborn streak. But his sense of independence freed him from compromising party politics, allowing him to be controlled by his conscience rather than a debt owed to special interest groups. A true patriot, Milk had an absolute allegiance to The Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution.
He brought a defiant defense of individual rights and individual participation in our political process. The gay political establishment in San Francisco pushed against Milk, the man and the idea. As an openly gay man, Milk knew that whoever holds the power, dictates the limits of our individuality.
”It takes no compromise to give people their rights… it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
Milk was one of the true political pioneers of the 20th century. He was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office when he won his seat on the San Francisco Board Of Supervisors in 1978. Now, 40 years later, all 50 states have been served by an openly gay elected official. My representative to the Oregon State House, openly gay Tina Kotek, lives in my neighborhood. Oregon is currently served by a popular openly bisexual Governor, Kate Brown, up for reelection this year, and certain to win.
Milk’s struggles and his successes show that there is really no such thing as a ”Gay Agenda”, there is simply freedom for all Americans, or there’s not. His energy and his eloquent voice spoke for all minorities, all the voiceless citizens who are crushed in the American cultural conformity.
People told Milk that no openly gay man could possibly win political office. Thankfully for all of us, Milk ignored them. He knew that emotional trauma of being in the closet was a LGBTQ person’s worst enemy, worse than the haters. That made the election of an openly gay person crucial, practically and symbolically.
There was a time not all that long ago when it was impossible to imagine Harvey Milk. Most people, straight and LGBTQ, had to adjust to what he represented: a gay person could live their life with honesty and still succeed in this world. That revelation continues to this day as the rights of gay people move baby steps forward with Marriage Equality, and then a step backwards with Religious Freedom laws like the ones that the current administration has helped enact.
With every gay character on television and film, with full Marriage Equality in every state, with each politician of any party that embraces the rights of LGBTQ people, and each state that adds Equal Protection laws, we find that unequivocal equality becomes unquestionable, and that is due in large part to Milk.
”If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
Tragically, an assassin’s bullet did silence Milk’s voice, but not his momentum. Milk would have celebrated his 88th birthday today.