July 13th, 2018
“We don’t realize that we’re making history when we’re living it.”
Yesterday I had a long conversation with a young gay man from Pakistan. I was surprised that he knew so much about Harvey. He hadn’t even been born when Harvey was killed, but he had so many questions. He grew up with hope. Harvey you did good.
Here’s something I wrote 8 years ago.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
November 27, 2008 was the 30th anniversary of the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco’s City Hall. Today, August 12th 2009, President Obama honored Harvey posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"He would become after several attempts one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. And his message of hope, hope unashamed, hope unafraid could never be silenced," said President Barack Obama. Thank you, Mr. President.
If Harvey were alive today, he would be only 78. Though he didn’t live to see much real effect of the gay revolution, I am sure that if he were still alive, he’d be thrilled to see the massive demonstrations across the country protesting the passage of Proposition 8 here in California. He’d also be raising hell, tempering passions, and organizing a skillful, resolute opposition to the religious faction that opposes the rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people.
Though I met Harvey face to face many times, I don’t know if I registered in his world. And that doesn't really matter much anyway. I liked him, and supported him in every election—among gay men he was not universally popular—yet I didn’t get as deeply involved in politics as I did after his assassination. In the early 70’s I wasn’t totally out. This middle class kid was not entirely comfortable in the Castro, but I knew that it was as close to gay heaven as I would ever get, and I was having a great time.
Harvey’s desk in the camera shop was in such perpetual disarray that you might have wondered how he could track his customers’ film, but he never lost any of mine. I would sit on the famous beat-up red couch while we did business and then was invited to stay for as long as I wanted. I always felt welcomed and, when I spoke, listened to.
During those times I mostly sat and listened; I sometimes had a hard time following his conversation. In the course of an hour, as customers, political friends, kids from the street, other Castro merchants came and went, he might talk about the flood of gay kids looking for work, experimenting sexually, VD, pumping up rents, leaving litter (and doggie poop!) in the gutter and upsetting the old line merchants, and scaring the Irish widows who still lived in the neighborhood when worked out guys cruised half naked on the corner of 18th and Castro in front of the old Hibernia Bank which became known as Hibernia Beach. I remember one afternoon very well: three older Irish women came in to complain and ask Harvey to do something—his influence was already established—about the open sexuality of their new neighbors (I’d even say provocative judging the Castro of the ‘70’s by today’s standards). He listened to the women’s case attentively and sympathetically, but he also made sure they understood that these men were not violating any laws and had rights.
He could laugh at any topic or take it with complete, serious concern depending on his audience. I always had a sense that he was probing for the deeply felt needs of the neighbors who ultimately became his constituents. When anyone asked him any question, that person became his total focus. It was clear that he had thought long and hard about the issues, and he always linked your concern to the general good. He was a born politician, crafting solutions to all the complexities of our full participation and acceptance in all levels of society.
But no matter how far ranging his conversations, he never lost sight of his primary focus: that gay men and women were entitled to equal rights without having to masquerade or make deals that would push us back in the closet.
On the marquee of the Castro Theater where the movie Milk opened last November 26th, there was the image of a political button: “Never Blend In.” I don’t remember if I ever heard Harvey say those words, but I do know that he embodied the openness about your gay lives they express. And it was the reason why many gay men didn’t much like him: they truly believed that “blending in” was the only strategy that would allow them to lead the kind of lives they wanted for themselves. [For a very thorough treatment of “blending in” and how it affects our rights as gay men and lesbians, I recommend, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino]
Today is a good day to remind ourselves of what Harvey taught with his life: Never give in. Never think that you have to be other than you are! Keep up the fight. The only thing you have to lose is your humanity.