As I’m typing this, I’m still mad at myself on why I didn’t catch Milk when it was shown here. I know – but it was screened only for a short period of time and on selected cinemas plus the fact that I have a hectic work schedule. No more excuses coz now that I have of course I’m going to talk about it. But first, I’m just glad that the movie based on a true story garnered 2 major awards. And I must say I was struck by the acceptance speeches of Dustin Lance Black after winning for Original Screenplay and Mr. Sean Penn himself on Actor in a Leading Role. They really hit close to home. I got teary-eyed and actually clapped as fervently as the audience to be honest. Back to the story after having heard about this movie, I got curious. I typed ‘Harvey Milk’ on Google and found out several interesting facts about his life, more so now after having watched the movie. I’m going to be re-telling the story so I hope I stay true to it as much as possible.
Harvey Milk is the first openly gay politician elected in public office. But before achieving this he was an ordinary merchant, a businessman who experienced discrimination because of his sexuality. His marvelous journey began in Castro District, San Francisco; Milk was 40 years old and founded a shop, Castro Camera it says. I guess he was fond of taking pictures as depicted in the movie. Later, being ‘out’ that he was living with his partner named Scott, it wasn’t long before gay people started coming to the place and hanging out. And the rest didn’t like it; I mean this was 1972 a time when gay rights were well, inexistent. This was also the time when he met the people who will be joining him on his political career such as Jim Rivaldo, Dick Pabich, Danny Nicoletta, Cleve Jones and more. As the crowd started growing Milk became well-known and people were outraged by his group. Milk showing the first signs of his influence on people started encouraging his ‘crowd’ to patronize only the shops that treat them fairly causing the other shops to shut down. Although Castro became sort of a sanctuary to them, it still wasn’t safe. During 1973, the suppression and violence got worse that they have to wear whistles around their neck to call for help when needed. This triggered him to want to do something about it; he wanted a change. And just like that although knowing the obstacles he has to overcome, he ran for San Francisco City Supervisor to serve not only the gay community but everyone, as his campaign slogan went: “Milk has something for everybody.” He didn’t win though sadly so as in 1975 and 1976 when he tried again. And by that that time it wasn’t getting any better with the presence of a religious group led by a woman named Anita Bryant who proposed to repeal the law protecting the human rights of gay people. Did you know that she said that giving these rights to homosexuals is like giving them to prostitutes, thieves and the like? I couldn’t believe what I’m hearing. What’s more unbelievable is people like her exist. Because it wasn’t like we were fighting for supremacy, we were only fighting for equality. And it’s very hard for me to understand so I’m questioning: “Was that too much to ask?” The sad thing was that the yes vote to repeal the ordinance won. But it wasn’t over; the gay protests back lashed and Milk strived even harder until in 1977 running for the fourth time, he was finally elected in public office. With the help of a new campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, a lesbian and even running against another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. In 1978 he took oath to office but is immediately faced with problems as State Senator John Briggs filed a state-wide petition in California to fire gay teachers and anyone who supports them, this evolved and tuned into what was called the Proposition 6 basically repealing the law protecting the civil rights of homosexuality. Another gay City Supervisor named Dan White is also against Milk’s cause quite ironically. He never supported the gay movements in fact he didn’t care at all and it’s a shame. But these didn’t stop Milk to sponsor the passing of the San Francisco Gay Rights Ordinance with the surprising support of the City Mayor George Moscone. Meanwhile, Milk’s personal life was shaken after his new partner Jack (he broke up with Scott during his fourth campaign) committed suicide. As the voting for Prop 6 nears, the Gay Freedom Day Parade was held on June 25th, 1978 led of course by Milk himself amidst the death threats. I liked what he said on his “Hope Speech” that it is written on the declaration of independence that: “All men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.” And that no John Briggs or Anita Bryant or anyone else for that matter can erase those words no matter how hard they try. Even in the debate scenes, I was infuriated by Briggs’ comments and reasoning that these gay perverts (teachers) must be removed because they are encouraging their students to be like them. And because child molestation cannot be prevented, we can at least lessen the odds by removing the homosexuals and keeping the heterosexuals. I hate it even more when he uses the name of God as defense. All those statements are so wrong in many levels. Actually, nothing good came out of those words. Uugghh… I’m actually really speechless by that point. But a miracle happened on November 7th, 1978 when the vote for NO to Prop 6 won. And it was pretty amazing. But due to a sudden twist of fate we did lose. On November 27th, 1978, White, not taking the turn out of the events very well and who has been against gay democracy and Milk the whole time, after being turned down shortly after resigning from the Board and deciding to come back, turned psycho and shot dead City Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk in the City Hall. Milk was shot 6 times and 3 at close range. That night, over 30,000 people marched from Castro to the City Hall to honor both men. And what really, really saddens me about all of this was the fact that White was acquitted of the murder charges and was only charged with voluntary manslaughter (the minimum charge). This basically means that although he broke the law he cannot be held liable due to diminished capacity which according to his lawyers was caused by his diet of junk food creating a chemical imbalance in his brain. This was labeled by the press as the Twinkie Defense. After the verdict, the so-called ‘White Night Riots’ exploded which marked the most violent uprising in the history of gay movement. What’s really interesting is that before he died, on November 18th he made a recording that tells about his life and he began it with: “this should only be played in the event of my death by assassination.”
I seriously recommend you to watch the movie most especially to people like me. It opens your eyes and it makes you think. After everything said, I’m just really grateful that someone like Harvey Milk came along and made it easier for us; who fought for our freedom, taught us to fight and most importantly gave us hope. Thank God for Milk. ‘Milk’ portrayed by Sean Penn and directed by Gus Van Sant with actors James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Lucas Grabeel and many more.
“I ask this, that if there be an assassination I would want five, ten, a hundred, a thousand to rise. If a bullet should enter my brain let it destroy every closet door. I ask for the movement to continue because it’s not about personal gain, and it’s not about ego, and it’s not about power, it’s about the “us’s” out there. Not just the gays but the blacks, and the asians, and the seniors and the disabled, the us’s. Without hope the us’s give up. And I know you can’t live on hope alone but without hope life is not worth living. So you, and you, and you, you gotta give them hope… you gotta give them hope.” – Harvey Milk