Saturday, May 22 was a significant milestone in the history of the LGBT Equality Movement. Thanks to a bill sponsored by Equality California and authored by openly gay Senator Mark Leno, in California we officially celebrated the birthday of Gay Rights Activist Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
After two legislative attempts, posthumously receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, and the film Milk (Schwarzenegger literally said that it was Gus Van Sant's Academy Award winning film that convinced him to change his mind) this is the first annual official recognition of any openly LGBT person.
Harvey Bernard Milk immediately became an icon for hope, courage and acceptance in the gay rights movement (after serving 11 months in office and passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city) when he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978, by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back. Milk is considered one of the most famous and significant openly LGBT officials.
Harvey's legacy of hope, courage and acceptance in the gay community has lit a fire of inspiration for me and many gay people I know who learned of his story at a time when we were still stumbling our way out of the closet. Harvey's legacy shows us that we as LGBT people are unique, and that we have a right to live openly, expressing our deepest personal truth. It is critical for all of humanity to know that we have gay ancestors like Milk that stood up for us, that fought for us to be out and open -- that have even been willing to give their life in service to this legacy of hope and acceptance.
Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will give schools permission to teach Milk's history to our youth. If having a day to acknowledge Harvey Milk means that this fire of inspiration continues to be lit and that our LGBT youth (and straight youth) are shown that they have the right to live life to its fullest potential out and proud, than Milk's legacy is working for all of us.
The truth is that the hatred that killed Harvey Milk is learned in our society by children at very young ages. If a child is taught to hate and fear diversity, then the next place he or she expresses that hate is at school. Ten percent of all hate crimes occur at schools and colleges. If hate is learned, then it lies on the shoulders of our schools, church officials, parents, teachers and communities to take advantage of designated days (and really every day) like Harvey Milk Day. We must stop and take these powerful moments to teach our young kids acceptance. We live in a time when still too many young lgbt people commit suicide or are bullied in school (see my article "Homophobia is Killing Our Youth"). As a result, systemic and deliberate programs/approaches to teaching love and acceptance are imperative.
One such program is being offered to kids in Los Angeles High School's by The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, as part of their AMP (Alive Music Project) program. On Harvey Milk Day I was privileged to witness the premiere of GMCLA's The Harvey Milk Schools Project, which is a project that teaches Milk's story through inspirational music and spoken word. As I experienced this performance I found myself wiping tears from my eyes wondering what it would have been like for me as a young, gay, closeted chorus boy in high school to see the gay men's chorus tell the story of Harvey Milk. I breathed in gratitude that there are other young LGBT people and straight people, whose hearts, minds and souls may be touched and changed through days like Harvey Milk Day, and the joy of learning tolerance through story and song that GMCLA offers.
Excerpt from Harvey Milk sppech - "You've Got to Give Them Hope"
To learn more about Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles and tickets to their next premiere "L'Amour" at Avalon in Hollywood visit gmcla.org