That We May Never Forget

…that the pain, suffering, secrecy and martyrdom of the brave queer people before us are the reason that we have lives filled with less fear today.

From Jesus In Love Blog:

Harvey Milk of San Francisco 
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Copyright 1987
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)

Pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978 (34 years ago today). Milk is the first and most famous openly gay male elected official in California, and perhaps the world. He became the public face of the LGBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his death. He has been called a martyr for GLBT rights.

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of GLBT people living openly is also coming true.

Milk has received many honors for his visionary courage and commitment to equality. He is the only openly gay person in the United States to have an official state holiday in his name. Harvey Milk Day is celebrated in California on Milk’s birthday, May 22. The bill establishing Harvey Milk Day was signed in to law in fall 2009, and the holiday was celebrated for the first time this year. State employees still have to work on Harvey Milk Day, but California public schools are encouraged to teach suitable commemorative lessons about the gay rights activist.

In 2009 Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

He is the subject of two Oscar-winning movies, “Milk” (2008) and “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), as well as the book “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 after three unsuccessful efforts to run for office. He served only 11 months before he was killed, but in that short time he was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it’s about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for GLBT rights are more alive than ever.

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz (pictured above) was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality.

It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 are now displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

CNN: Majority Of Americans Support Marriage Equality, Have Gay Friends/Family Members

From LGBTQNation:

A majority of Americans say they support legal recognition of same-sex marriage amid growing evidence that the public has become more comfortable with gays and lesbians, according to a new CNN/ORC International survey released Wednesday.

According to the survey, 54 percent of respondents now say that marriages between gay and lesbian couples should be legal, with only 42 percent opposed.

The results also indicated that the number of Americans who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay jumped from 49 percent in 2010 to 60 percent today, the first time in CNN polling that a majority of Americans have said that.

Looks like coming out is having the positive effects Harvey Milk predicted.

Full story here.

An Evening With Dustin Lance Black

I have to admit, I went in completely biased.

Like many of you, I watched the Academy Award acceptance speech with tears in my eyes.

“…if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that 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 anyone 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.”

Like I said, completely smitten biased.

But when he began talking about not settling for “close, but not there”, and not giving up on the vision of panoramic human rights, and overcoming the paralysis of fear- “put your pencil on the paper and start moving it- something has to happen”, I knew my predisposition toward this gentle, fiery soul was completely justified. He talked not so much about activism as the promotion of reality- the reality that LGBT people are everywhere, they just want to love and be loved, and they’re not going away. And he’s right. We aren’t.

Unless we give up.

I sat in a full Ballroom at Montana State university with students, teachers, parents, cowboys and a few kids. This was a crowd that could have been distributed down Main Street, Bozeman, and it wouldn’t have seemed different from the normal pedestrian traffic. People listened to this young man- whose story of a rural Mormon upbringing probably hit close to home to many in the audience, with rapt attention punctuated by laughter and enthusiastic applause. Here was a non-apologetic gay man standing in front of a group in a (generally) conservative state whose constitution explicitly prohibits him from full equality, and his story was received respectfully, even enthusiastically. His story and vision no different from my own.

I then had a realization.

It wasn’t new, it had been knocking on the back door of my brain for a while, but I was now able to hear it. It was this:

I had turned all these people into the bullies from my childhood and young adulthood. I had created an enemy/threat out of people who were probably neither. I was projecting. (The irony of my professional blind spot is not lost on me here) I had imposed my childhood fears on (almost) every Montanan- and I’m not a child. I had allowed this weird, unarticulated fear to hold me back.

I don’t want to do that anymore. So I’m going to pay attention to the injustice sensor whenever it goes off- not just when it’s safe. That was my gift from Dustin Lance Black.

Well, one of them.

He answered my question about religion’s scarring of some LGBT’s with “every religion has something important to say. Mine taught me love and respect of family. …but religion is not its leaders. I wouldn’t listen to the leaders all the time. And anger and hurt about religion didn’t keep me from being spiritual.” He talked with people afterward, meeting every one who waited to see him. Of course, I stood in line.

I got a hug, a brief chat about my crazy life story and was able to thank him for his availability and candor. He thanked me right back. Gracious. From the word grace, meaning “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action”.

Elegant activism. I think I can do that.

Thanks, Lance.