Today is Harvey Milk Day in California.
And I'm left to wonder what Harvey would say if he were here.
I imagine he'd start by saying that this day isn't about him. For Harvey, it was always about the movement, never about ego.
He'd likely say that this day is for the kids out there in Altoona, Pa., who still feel that what makes them different makes them "less than" and are feeling hopeless. He'd tell anyone who would listen that they must come out and stand up -- and send that young person a much-needed message of hope.
But I'm afraid that the next thing Harvey might ask is, "What has happened to the coalitions we started building?"
Because as proud as I am of the work that so many brave people have done to come out and share their stories, I'm afraid that we have neglected one of the most critical pieces of Harvey Milk's successful political philosophy.
Harvey Milk was not myopic when it came to his equality. If he had been, he never would have been elected. Harvey was a pure populist. He worked hard for all people who have been made to feel "less than," and all minorities whom the system wasn't working for.
Early on, he backed the unions in the Coors beer boycott in the '70s, forging an unexpected alliance between gays and union truck drivers. He went into Chinese communities and made sure that the ballots were written in Mandarin instead of in English. He fought for seniors and the homeless.
It seems that the message we too often miss from Milk's work is that all Americans have an interest in equality because soon we will all be minorities in some way or another; it just depends on how we slice the pie.
Separate, we are all vulnerable. Together we are unbeatable.
Harvey called this his "coalition of the us's" -- not only gays but blacks, Asians, seniors, the disabled. He understood the interconnectedness of our common struggles.
The idea was simple but brilliant. Harvey believed that people who are very different deserve equal protection. And he knew that if we were ever going to win that freedom and keep it, we had to stick together.
When I wrote the movie Milk, I focused mostly on Harvey's call to send a message of hope to the young LGBT people who were suffering, likely because I had grown up feeling a lot like that isolated kid from Altoona.
But here's the thing: I grew up gay, but I also grew up Mormon and in Texas. I grew up with a single mother who walked with crutches because of polio. And we had no money. I was a free-lunch kid. We were different in so many ways beyond just the gay thing. So why didn't I shine a brighter light on Harvey's "coalition of the us's"? It's one of my few regrets with the portrayal.
Because the bottom line is this: We in the LGBT movement have a long way to go when it comes to joining together with other groups who are seeking equal opportunity and equal protections. Too often I witness a myopia that I fear may keep us from crossing the finish line of full equality and leave any gains we make feeling impermanent.
Never has this been clearer to me than in these weeks leading up to the Supreme Court's ruling on full marriage equality. With a true coalition, every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation, would understand that this isn't simply a gay and lesbian fight but a fight for justice and equality for anyone who has ever been singled out as second-class.
When the Supreme Court does get it right, it should be clear that this is a victory for everyone who has ever felt different in some way, which increasingly means every single one of us. But if it continues to leave gay and lesbian families vulnerable, it is making all families vulnerable.
Now more than ever, we need organizations and individuals to do the hard work to rebuild, build out and strengthen our coalitions and reach out and find commonality with unexpected new allies.
We need the "us's" to stand together publicly with our voices raised to remind the world that this nation is strong because of our differences, not despite them.
Because when the day comes that the U.S. Supreme Court rules for full equality for gays and lesbians, it should not send a message of hope solely to LGBT young people. It should be clear that the court has sent a message of hope to every young person who has ever felt "less than" for being different.
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