One thing I love about my LGBTQ community is how we are always able to have a good time. Our Pride parades are outrageous, our dance parties are on fire, and our weddings are breathtaking beyond belief.
But this fun-filled, partying quality isn’t the only thing to love about us. We go so much deeper than what is on the surface, which is often covered in glitter. Underneath it all, our hearts are much bigger than our personalities, and many of us give them out freely to those in need.
I currently serve on the local Pittsburgh board of a national nonprofit organization called Gay for Good. The group aims to mobilize the LGBTQ community to engage with the greater community through social welfare and environmental service projects. With over 11 chapters nationwide, G4G members donate our time and abilities to different local charities and nonprofits every month.
In our Pittsburgh chapter, one of the opportunities we grab onto fervently every year is getting down and dirty to tidy up neighborhoods for the Harvey Milk Day of Service. The annual celebration in honor of the great civil rights activist and first openly-gay politician to be elected in California takes place every May 22.
Community groups have events planned all across the country this weekend focusing on public service because that is something to which Milk devoted his life. We acknowledge that, and we honor that by planting trees, cleaning up rivers and shorelines, volunteering at libraries and food pantries, and organizing countless other service projects in remembrance of a man killed for simply being who he was.
I view Milk as an often overlooked icon for queer people, folks like me who have been told we are less than, immoral, undeserving. Heroes like Milk risked their lives to show the world they would not live in hiding. Through this courageous way of living, Milk gave so many people, particularly young people, hope that you can do anything you wanted as a member of the LGBTQ community—even be elected to office.
He strived to be an amazing example of what a good person looks like, regardless of sexual orientation. He showed that we are human too and that we give back, regardless of whether or not we receive anything in return. He stared bigotry in the face and told it he wasn’t going to be a coward, regardless of the fatal consequences.
There are so many challenges that people like Milk faced that those of the new generation could not even imagine, though during this unstable time in our political history, many of us worry those challenges may return. But if Milk showed us anything, it is that we cannot be silent, we cannot compromise, and we must fight in order to be able to live out our full potential.
To me, that full potential starts with showing the world who we are. Yes, we are fabulous, and we are hilarious, and we are colorful. But we are also selfless and unwavering, and we can, and must, give the world what it deserves and what we deserve—love.
Now, more than ever, we must channel the great civil rights icon who lost his life by donating some time out of our own.
Harvey Milk once said, “If you want to change the world, start in your own neighborhood.”
He did just that, and we must do the same.
For more information on Harvey Milk Day, click here.