Coming right when we needed it -- though I would have loved to have seen it released before the election -- comes a movie that remembers what it used to be like for gay people. It's called MILK and if you are at all interested in seeing how a single person can change the course of history, go.
The film opens with a series of scenes of documentary footage of gay bars getting raided by police. If you were gay or if you hung out with gay people, in the Police State that America can be when it decides "your" people are not wanted, we see normal folks being herded into police wagons.
And why were they being herded into police wagons? Because they were gay.
I remember when we visited the oldest gay bar in New York City. The patrons back then were required to face the wall while drinking because eye contact meant jail time.
This is what our lives used to be like. And it was done everywhere. In San Francisco, when election time rolled around, the police would back the trucks up to every gay bar, force everyone into the paddy wagon and destroy their lives forever. Why? So the local pols could get "credit" for wiping out "vice."
That was the world we lived in.
Then this guy named Harvey Milk came along. He was one of the sweetest persons you could know. And Sean Penn miraculously manages to capture this steely sweetness in one of the most accurate and low key performances I've ever witnessed.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay public official ever elected to a public office -- City Supervisor 5th District of San Francisco -- and for that he was assassinated by a jealous fellow Supervisor who was given a light sentence for this murder (provoking a riot in response), but who subsequently committed suicide.
What was most interesting to me about Gus Van Sant's miraculous movie was not merely the fact that it was perfectly made and acted, filled to brim with stars: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Lucas Grabeel, and so many others.
No, the miracle was how closely this movie parallels exactly what's going on now in the world of politics as, 30 years later, we are still fighting for basic human rights.
Back then, a particularly hideous man named Briggs created something called "Prop 6" which was designed to force the firing of any teacher who was gay. Back then, we had Anita Bryant running around telling everyone about how "evil" gay people are, and that "God" is deeply disturbed by our very presence.
The self-righteous leading the self-important.
But back then, Prop 6 was defeated. In our current day, Prop 8 was passed.
See, here in California we had the right to marry. But Prop 8 stripped us of that right by public vote. Since when are human rights subject to a vote?
Back then, all the establishment gays said to Harvey, "Don't protest! Don't put the faces of gay people into the ad campaigns! You'll just upset the straight people who don't like us!"
Harvey's response was, "COME OUT! COME OUT! WHEREVER YOU ARE! Get into the streets! Show them who we are! If they can't see us, they don't know us!"
But the leaders against Prop 8 in our time were just like the old establishment figures of then. The ad campaign here in California curiously pictured NO GAY PEOPLE. NO GAY COUPLES.
It was as if our own leadership were ashamed of us. Instead, we got these phony-looking treacly ads with crappy music featuring straight people looking and sounding like they were selling Medicare supplement insurance.
Funny how things never change.
Even now, as gay people are marching once again out of righteous fury at being stripped of our rights, we have people demanding that we sit down, get quiet, shut up and don't disturb the waters. We are being told, "You'll upset people. You'll make enemies."
Harvey Milk would have laughed first, then pulled out his bullhorn and cried, "MARCH! Get into the streets! Let them see you!"
I was astonished, while watching this movie, how every single argument they were having back then is being echoed right at us today.
On Saturday, I'm going to be marching down at City Hall. It will be a peaceful march. And I'm going to be doing it because Harvey Milk, who was killed 30 years ago for daring to not hide in the closet, daring to not care what the "establishment gays" had to say, for daring not to pretend that this isn't about our lives, for daring to be a proud, out, openly gay man, said it best, "Come out. Come out. Wherever you are.
As I watched this movie, I felt this low level of anger and fury building up inside of me. And I realized that things never change unless each and every person, gay, lesbian or straight, bi or trans, black, white, brown, Asian -- unless all of us come together as human beings and get in the face of the powers of bigotry and demand to be treated equally.
Human rights were never gained without cost. Harvey Milk was killed for nothing more than refusing to hide, refusing to pretend, refusing to be anything except the compassionate and warm GAY MAN that he was.
And he took it to the streets. Without apology and without shame.
We march for you, Harvey and we march for our lives. Because if they can strip us of the very basic human right to marry, they can strip us of every other right, including the right to exist.
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