Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thanks, Harvey

Harvey Bernard Milk
May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978
Photo credit: Harvey Milk Foundation
Once upon a time, there was a kind and brave man, Harvey Milk, who believed that the identifying characteristics of the genitalia affixed to the person we love and seek to commit our lives to ~ or whether we wheel in a chair or use a white cane, and especially if we're functionally ambulant and sighted ~ shouldn't be of import when it comes to fighting for and asserting our social and civil rights as human beings on this shared planet. And certainly such things shouldn't matter when it comes to fighting the good fight for the benefit of the very citizenry where we live.

Harvey left the constraints of a still-somewhat homophobic New York City in 1972 to become a resident of the infamous Castro District in San Francisco, where he found a pocket of relatively safe freedom to establish a life as an openly gay businessman, opening and operating Castro Camera, a place that quickly became known as a gathering spot ~ a haven for lots of laughter, and some tears no doubt ~ where friends and strangers-who-would-become-friends engaged in smart conversation about life and the state of things as they were then and how they could be.

But still ~ even in The Castro, where the openly S&M crowd met and mingled with the secretly homosexual, and questioning momma's boys ~ Harvey witnessed and experienced the brutal blows of bigotry, hate and injustice from anti-gay factions within the neighborhood and throughout the city. He astutely realized that the best way to fight back against the power structure was to get inside it, and although no openly gay person had ever been elected to office in California, nothing was going to stop Harvey's hope ("Ya gotta give 'em hope!").  So he did what any motivated mensch would do: He got out into his community and started educating and organizing.

From the young to the old, to the dog lover and the dog (poop) hater, he was readily beloved by those who knew him... except for those whose hearts were (and sadly, some still are) hard to his message of Oneness, of one humanity in it together, helping each other up the mountain to enjoy the view as a co-operative and creative community, instead of aggressively pushing each other out of the way to get to the apex and claim it for ourself. Even though a good many were against him, it didn't matter if you were female, gay, disabled, minority, elderly, whatever, Harvey was in there swinging for the rights of humanKind at large, channeling the anger and pain inflicted by bigotry, hate and injustice into constructive engagement and action. And if someone was swinging soundbites and slurs at him, he'd do that common sense verbal jujitsu that many great and true men of the common people have, and sway countless opponents and would-be opponents to his point of view.

Still, it wasn't a cakewalk. He suffered multiple losses, both personal and electoral, in his battles for social recognition and political empowerment. But he kept on, and he kept recruiting others to fight with and for him. He even ventured directly into openly hostile, conservative communities to speak in debates and public forums as a human being to a human being, winning supporters along the way with his charisma and heart and tenacity until, in 1977, he garnered the title of "First Openly Gay Man" to receive an office at the behest of California's voters, on whose behalf (and particularly for the disenfranchised) he kept fighting some more until...

The "Twinkie" eating shooter. Milk colleague Dan White's sanity cracked, and in bold daylight he shot dead both Harvey and San Francisco's Mayor, George Moscone. Bright light extinguished... but only in body. Harvey's soul? It soars around and through us, encouraging and calling all to action who will hear his timeless messages of social equality and justice.

Thirty-three years later ~ like a civically liberating Obi-Wan for our time ~ Harvey's spirit has only grown stronger.  Since his death, the rare open mention of openly gay artists like kd lang quickly (in the scope of humanity's timeline) went mainstream with the appearance of an over-the-moon-happy photo from Ellen and Portia's wedding on the August 19, 2008 cover of "People" magazine. A radiant Bride and her radiant Bride actually waltzed through America's supermarket check-out stands and into our hearts. On first seeing that cover, I thought again of Milk, grateful to his influence in getting us this far.

Detail from "Love"
by Guillermo Alonso
Harvey demonstrated a commitment to what the world needs NOW, by his trailblazing examples of the power of love-sweet-multiversal-love in action on behalf of the socially marginalized. Oh sure, love won't feed people, but it might motivate us to donate to a food bank or volunteer on a food line. It won't house people, but it might put us in the mind of finding ways to help a local homeless shelter. It won't clothe people, but we can donate some of those never or rarely worn clothes stuffed in our closets and drawers to any number of charities. It won't save people's physical lives (in a direct way, anyway), but we can donate our blood to make sure someone's physical life can be saved. And, of course, love alone won't guarantee that people can be wed in the eyes of the law (as very distinct from the eyes of God) regardless of race or gender... but it might put us in the mind of helping to make sure that they can be wed. (I mean, really, are straight people doing such a generally great job protecting the institutions of marriage and family, given the overflowing dockets in family and juvenile courts? Not! But I'll not address that worthy subject here, because it's definitely a whole other field of worms, and this is about Harvey.)

So, yeah... Thanks, Milk. I got you, alright. Thank you for standing up, shouting out, sticking your neck out... Thank you for living life so out loud that roughly two generations on from your assassination by a homophobe ~ about the same amount of time that the Lord had Moses out wandering with his tribe in the desert (the better to adjust to their newfound freedom, as my wise soul-sister-in-law once told me) ~ that men and women, slowly but surely, are actually earning the right to marry the prince or the princess, the pauper or the baglady. We all deserve love ~ truly, I believe it's our Birthright ~ and when we find it with someone who's ready to stay with us through thick and thin, committed 'til the end of breaths to grow with us through the pain and celebrate with us through joys, to witness and honor our life in reflection of the best of what we can bring to life... it really shouldn't matter what's between our legs, no...?

Rest in peace, Harvey... or party like the Hendrix equivalent of a political rockstar that you are, on this day that would've been your 81st birthday (and oh, wouldn't that have been a ball!). Whatever, whenever, wherever, your legacy will keep inspiring us, and we'll keep giving 'em (and each other) hope.


  1. In memory of Guille ~ long may you create art and joy, you awesome angel xoxo

  2. Great tribute to both and great piece.

  3. Thanks, Reinhard. I love them both... and especially the Cuban <3