Sunday, 22 February 2009

Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight


"Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio, there is a young gay person who all of a sudden realises that she or he is gay. Knows that if the parents find out they’ll be tossed out of the house. The classmates will taunt the child and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs are doing their bit on TV, and that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide... and then one day that child might open up the paper and it says, “Homosexual elected in San Francisco,” and there are two new options. One option is to go to California... OR stay in San Antonio and fight.

"You’ve got to elect gay people so that that young child and the thousands upon thousands like that child know that there’s hope for a better world. There’s hope for a better tomorrow."
Harvey Milk
As we await with predictable boredom the announcement of the Oscars tonight, with the inevitable feeling that the judges will go for the "safe option" in most of the categories, it will be interesting to see whether Milk gets any of the awards for which it has been nominated.

We are planning to go and see the film next week, so I cannot comment on how it works on screen, but the story of assassinated San Francisco politician Harvey Milk is (and should be) legendary.

Many years ago, I watched the documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk. I had not long come out when it was released, and the battles this heroic man undertook on his journey to election made a huge impact on me, in an era of Reaganite/Thatcherite politics and the looming backlash of tabloid opinion about gay people in the wake of AIDS.

Thirty years on from Milk's election and subsequent murder, and twenty years on from Reagan and Thatcher, the homophobia is still there - think of recent tabloid coverage of George Michael or Boy George (to name just the most prominent anti-gay reporting) - and in the recent US elections the euphoria over the election of a black President was clouded by the passing of homophobic laws in California, Florida and Arizona.

So this man's legacy remains vitally important today. And in a fascinating essay, written as an introduction to a book about his story, screenwriter and Oscar nominee Lance Black explains why we should never forget Harvey Milk.

If you read nothing else today, read this.

Excerpts from Milk's famous "Give them Hope" speech:


Harvey Milk on Wikipedia

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