PART THREE: HOPE WILL NEVER BE SILENT
THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK
Harvey Milk was a man like any other; he was complex, he was flawed but Harvey was also a man of high integrity whose social conscience and sensitivity to injustice shaped his desire to affect real and lasting social change.
Stuart Milk says of his uncle, “My uncle was not the first openly LGBT person elected to public office in the US but he was the first to a substantial office and the first to actively proclaim his sexuality and not back up from it. I am very proud of my Uncle both as a dear Uncle whom I lost as a teenager and as a worldwide civil rights visionary!”
His story is powerful because it reminds us all that bigotry and social hostility should never define us or limit us from fulfilling our full potential. The opinions of others are just that, opinions. Their beliefs are merely perceptions based on their own set of unique social influences.
Harvey was a gay man, Harvey was a Jewish man and Harvey was also a moral, freethinking and innovative man who, having self-repressed for much of his life, decided to live with authenticity; at which point his choices became focussed and his life took a clearer and more purposeful direction.
His sexuality was a part of who he was but it was not all that he was. What his sexuality did inform, however, was his understanding of oppression and his sense of social justice.
He was an eloquent, witty and informed speaker who cut through confused closed minded conservative thinking using tactics like reversal and humour to make his point. He was a firm believer in and builder of communities, where common causes and shared goals could bring positive outcomes for all.
In a 1973 speech during his first unsuccessful run for supervisor, Harvey succinctly simplified this philosophy, “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”
Cleve Jones, human rights activist, author, lecturer and Milk protégé attributes much of Harvey’s impact on society more to his assassination than his life: “His murder and the response to it made permanent and unquestionable the full participation of gay and lesbian people in the political process.”
Jean O’Leary, who was director of the National Gay Rights Advocates, remarked, in 1989, that, “Every movement needs its hero, and, by his death, Harvey became a symbol, a rallying cry of never, never again.”
Harvey Milk, the self proclaimed Mayor of Castro Street, was a hero, a martyr and a role model who empowered and galvanised a community, giving hope to the disenfranchised and inspiring others to “Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
His legacy lives on in the friends and colleagues whose lives he influenced and the countless individuals who lived through the turbulent early days of gay liberation.
Harvey has been immortalised in print and in song, in sculpture and in fine art, theatre and in film.
When she heard news of the Milk/ Moscone murders, singer/songwriter Holly Near immediately composed “Singing for Our Lives”, also known as “Song for Harvey Milk”.
There are, in San Francisco and across America, streets, buildings, festivals and memorial days dedicated to him and, in these modern times, numerous websites, fan pages and academic citations to be easily found online; Google his name and you’ll find around 1.5 million results in under 30 seconds! There’s even a band called Harvey Milk.
Most recently, of course, is the multi award winning movie, MILK, directed by Gus Van Sant and featuring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.
Dustin Lance Black, on receipt of his Oscar for Best Screenplay, emotionally, his voice shaking, gave thanks to Harvey Milk, “When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”
Sean Penn, who also received an Oscar that evening, either still in character or channelling Harvey, used his acceptance speech to urge opponents of same-sex marriage to rethink their positions, “…for those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”
MILK was preceded by an Academy Award winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein and based on the Randy Shilts book, The Mayor of Castro Street; which is widely regarded as the definitive biography of Harvey Milk.
Other significant books include, The Harvey Milk Story by Kari Krakow, A Letter to Harvey Milk: Short Stories by Lesléa Newman and most recently, No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk by David Aretha, Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, Mike Weiss and The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words edited by Vince Emery
In 1991, there came a musical theatre production entitled The Harvey Milk Show (Book & Lyrics by Dan Pruitt, Music by Patrick Hutchison) and, in 1996, Harvey Milk, an opera, written by Stewart Wallace and described as, “exploring Milk’s character as a complex interplay between his dual heritage: part gay, part Jewish”.
Harvey was listed as one of “Time 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” and The Advocate listed Milk third in their “40 Heroes of the 20th century” issue, in which Dianne Feinstein states: “His homosexuality gave him an insight into the scars which all oppressed people wear. He believed that no sacrifice was too great a price to pay for the cause of human rights.”
Honouring Harvey Milk, as one of 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barak Obama said, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.
“Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”
“His name was Harvey Milk and he was here to recruit us, all of us, to join a movement and change a nation. For much of his early life, he had silenced himself. In the prime of his life, he was silenced by the act of another, but in the brief time in which he spoke and ran and led, his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people. He would become, after several attempts, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. In his message of hope, hope unashamed, hope unafraid, could not ever be silenced. It was Harvey who said it best, “You gotta give ‘em hope”
Harvey’s nephew, Stuart Milk, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf.
Later in 2009, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared May 22, Harvey’s birthday, as “Harvey Milk Day”, and inducted Milk into the California Hall of Fame.
It was Harvey’s brother Robert who, quoted in The Mayor of Castro Street, best expressed what his legacy could be, “Harvey was a pioneer of the 20th century. His struggle and his deeds will prove to history that there’s no such thing as a gay way, there is only one way. … The citizens of San Francisco can make Harvey live forever by continuing to do things his way, in the deeds and in the accomplishments of their daily efforts to make their great city live.”
Harvey Bernard Milk was a pioneer, a visionary, a tenacious, tireless and determined advocate for social equality but he was also a man who only found his calling when he found himself. His journey towards self-efficacy is what makes Harvey interesting and to know that he struggled before finding his authentic core demystifies the man and gives hope to us all that somehow in some way we too may be capable of great things.NEVER BLEND IN – DAVID E WATTERS
About the book
NEVER BLEND IN, by National Diversity Award Winner David E Watters, is an accessible and powerful toolkit for living unlimited; candid stories and wise words which encourage, inspire, uplift and give hope to those who need it most, those who may feel disenfranchised or who may lack self-belief.
This ground-breaking, vital book of exclusive celebrity and deeply personal non-celebrity testimonies is aimed primarily at a young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning audience, but it is also of great value to educators, parents, family and mental health professionals seeking insight into the LGBTQ experience.
Role models from education, entertainment, law enforcement, medical and emergency services, politics, religion and sports have participated in this much needed discourse to illuminate the reader’s journey of self-discovery and to illustrate that living a life unlimited by labels will lead to personal, professional and spiritual fulfilment.
NEVER BLEND IN includes original and insightful interviews with actors Alan Cumming OBE (Cabaret, Spy Kids, The Good Wife), Stephen Fry (Peter’s Friends, Wilde), Anthony Rapp (Rent), Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse, The Princess Diaries, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, The Devil’s Advocate, Scream 3, Sorority Boys, Saved! and Hostel: Part 2), Colton Ford (The Lair), Marcus Patrick (My Wife & Kids, CSI: Miami, Passions and Dancing With The Stars), Scotch Ellis Loring (Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, 24, Alias, Touched by An Angel) and Adele Anderson (Fascinating Aida); key equality advocates, educators and influencers of policy Sue Sanders (Schools Out), Charles Robbins (CEO, The Trevor Project), Stephen Williams MP, Jack MacKenroth (Project Runway, Queens of Drag: NYC), Rabbi Denise Eger, Lt. Dan Choi and veteran human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell; filmmaker Parvez Sharma (A Jihad for Love); musicians Darren Hayes (Savage Garden) and Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” for his role as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet) ; sporting greats, NBA star, John Amaechi (author of Man in the Middle) and Olympic swimmer Bruce Hayes; transgender trailblazers Calpernia Addams, the Rev David E. Weekley (author of In from the Wilderness) and Jamison Green (author of Becoming a Visible Man); Mental Health professionals, Gladeana McMahon, Antoine Spiteri and Dr. John Shafer; writers Tom Robb Smith (Child 44, The Secret Speech), Leslea Newman (A Letter to Harvey Milk), Linda Goldman (Coming Out, Coming In), Michael Musto (The Village Voice); Del Shores (Sordid Lives); representatives from organizations including The Trevor Project, The Harvey Milk Foundation, PFLAG, FireFLAG, The Gay Police Association and Schools Out and colleagues of Harvey Milk; Anne Kronenberg, Daniel Nicoletta and Tom Ammiano.
These engaging stories of living authentically, with dignity and unlimited by labels will help readers to understand how self-belief determines the path that they choose and that life need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy when they improve self-concept, drive out fear and embrace new challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, eliminate self-imposed limitations and cease dependence on others to provide validity.
The various voices in this book candidly and sincerely share their wisdom and belief that we can be an important part of society without blending in; that we can live with 100% authenticity, unlimited by labels; that we shouldn’t be expected to compromise our identity to find acceptance and everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, has a right to fully live.
There is practical advice and guidance from the LGBT community on how life need not be a self-fulfilling prophecy and that by recognizing that our “truth” has been shaped through our relationships, our environment and our experiences, we can begin to change our perceptions, heighten our self-esteem and move toward our personal and professional goals with clear vision and purpose….
About the Author
National Diversity Award Winner, David E. Watters, is a teacher, motivational speaker and writer; a passionate equality advocate, committed to enhancing the lives of young people and adults who may feel marginalised or limited by labels.
As a teacher, he is committed to developing the whole person through creatively challenging students to embrace their unique value, and that of others, to encourage them to fulfill their full potential. He is nominated for an Excellence in Diversity Award 2015, for his contribution to enhancing the diversity agenda within education.
Since graduating from The Institute of Education, University of London, David has gone on to train as a mediator, and is a qualified facilitator for The Pacific Institute.
As Director of NBI Associates, David devises and delivers engaging, enjoyable and interactive Diversity and Cultural Enhancement workshops utilizing Cognitive Behavioural and Performing Arts strategies for individual, corporate and academic clients.
Watters is also the founder and coordinator of the inclusive, inspirational and international Give ‘em Hope Campaign; an online initiative which utilises all available social networks to encourage and uplift those who doubt their validity, feel isolated or limited by labels, through the sharing of written and video testimonies. The campaign was honoured at the National Diversity Awards 2014 when it won the Community Organisation Award (Multi-Strand).
Watters was a key player in the Equal Love Campaign UK; taking the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 and successfully achieving Marriage Equality for same-sex couples in the United Kingdom.
His passion and expertise has brought many opportunities to write and speak on social change and his book, NEVER BLEND IN, brings together this wealth of experience and the voices of those whom he has met along the way.