Karen Ocamb

Harvey Milk Day - Stuart Milk and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez Talk about Harvey Milk

Filed By Karen Ocamb | May 21, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Harvey Milk, John A. Perez, Stuart Milk

One has to imagine the late Harvey Milk beaming down from heaven as he watched openly gay harvey-milk-with-kids-300x202California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez walk into Wednesday night's White House State Dinner with Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and be seated with his male date at President Obama's head table.

One has to wonder if Perez thought of Milk, too. He was thinking of him last Wednesday, May 12 at the California Museum in Sacramento when Perez joined Milk's nephew Stuart Milk of the Harvey Milk Foundation and a slew of notables, including "Milk" producer Bruce Cohen and Milk's 1977 campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, for an event kicking off the1st Annual Harvey Milk Day in California. May 22 marks Harvey Milk's birthday.

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of America's first openly gay elected officials, was assassinated in 1978 by former Supervisor Dan White, who also murdered Mayor George Moscone. Perez reflected on Milk's legacy:

Milk was inducted into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum last Dec. 1 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stuart Milk accepted the posthumous honor for his slain uncle.

Before the induction, I conducted an email interview with Stuart Milk about his famous uncle, which I re-post here:

LGBT POV: One of the first things that we say about Harvey Milk is that he was assassinated and became a martyr for our cause. But there is so much more to him. What do you think is Harvey Milk's legacy and why should we remember that about him?

Stuart Milk:Harvey-Milk-inducted-300x199Well, first and foremost my uncle is indeed an enduring martyr for LGBT rights and I am not sure that statement alone is enough.

My uncle recorded two political wills in case he was assassinated. He discussed at some length with me - back even to my grandfather's funeral in 1976 - that he felt very strongly he would be "giving his life for justice." More then a self- fulfilling prophecy, he really knew that his style of being out and being authentic would end his life.

He wrote a letter to my father and mother after the defeat of the Briggs initiative saying that this would probably be the last he would be able to write, with notes to me and my brother about a future that he dreamed would be possible - in many ways because of his death.

It is still difficult for me today to reconcile Harvey's incredible love and zest for life with his knowing that he must and would be giving his life so early so we can all be more open and authentic.

I often close some of my presentations with something like: Harvey gave his life for a movement - for our LGBT rights movement - and we must ask ourselves each day what can we give? Clearly, we will not be giving our lives, but what can we do to further our rights, to stop the violence against us, to retract the inequality, to reach beyond our comfort zones, even just a bit?

My favorite quote that Harvey gave me was a Native American saying, "You are the medicine that the world needs, even when the world does not recognize that." He would tell me that no one else can duplicate what I bring to the world, with all of my feeling different and all my odd authenticity. The key was for me to know that my differences are a gift to the world.

That was his message to me at fourteen years old and it is still his message. I feel more strongly even today that this message is needed, and that this message is universal. It is not simply come out - it is come out and show the world who you really are. To do otherwise is not only a disservice to yourself but deprives the world of such richness of perspectives and beauty.

It is interesting that Harvey's alma mater - the University at Albany - kind of just discovered their most famous graduate and they held a Harvey Milk Recognition Day and presented me with his college newspaper writings.

Even back then, at age 19 in 1949, Harvey challenged the status quo. In one column, he strongly objected to the ROTC coming onto campus - that "a teachers college should be teaching peace and respect for everyone and not how to make war on each other." This was not popular only a few years after the end of World War Two and he said so. But he also said he "could not restrain a voice within him that must be heard."

I think his voice must continue to be heard. We still need it and it was - and is - a very brave and courageous voice well worth our remembering.

LGBT POV: How are you working to see that fulfilled?

Stuart Milk: It has been both very difficult and very rewarding. Difficult in that I travel three out of four weeks a month for my full time job and now, nearly every weekend, for LGBT events around the world.

Harvey's amazing message, his amazing voice, is so clearly needed in so many places, in so many ways, on so many levels.

I can see in the faces of our LGBT brothers and sisters I have spoken in front of, that I have walked and demonstrated with, that I have met members of parliaments with - whether in Turkey or in Panama or in Spain or in Tallahassee or in Concord or in Sacramento - the common thread is hope.

Harvey gives hope everyday. All across the globe, he continues to give hope and save lives through the story of his giving his own life and for his dream for us all. I know when all of these folks, in particular the young people, want their picture taken with me, it is the closest they can get to Harvey. It has nothing to do with me, it never has. It is very much between them and the voice they hear from Harvey.

I am know the age that Harvey was when he was killed. I can never imagine a better use of my time on this planet then to give rise to Harvey's voice and Harvey's hope.

LGBT POV: What does Harvey receiving the US Medal of Freedom and induction into the California Hall of Fame mean?

Stuart Milk: One of the amazing things about the CA Hall of Fame is all the school children that are both taken there and/or will study the inductees. It is not only a powerful milestone to teach grade school children in our nation's largest state that the LGBT community is part of the wonderful and vast diversity of life - but that they, too, can be celebrated for standing up for justice - even when societal and legal equality has not yet been achieved.

LGBT POV: California now has the Harvey Milk Day which can be voluntarily commemorated in public schools. If you were the teacher in a grade school in conservative Orange County - how would you present your lesson plan to conservative parents - and then to the kids?

Stuart Milk: I would approach it as Harvey did with me when I was 14. I would start with that Native American saying that each of us is the medicine that the world needs, and it is our authenticity that is needed and not our masks, and that the world does not always recognize that.

Maybe a good Harvey Milk Day assignment might be for the kids, along with their parents, to go back into their family trees and see where the limbs and roots of that family tree were not recognized with equality, with full civil rights, with the full celebration of their gifts to the world. I know they will all find examples just by reaching the pre- suffrage women alone!

LGBT POV: Some people who were not around at the time think Harvey Milk was the reason the Briggs Initiative was defeated - when in fact it had A LOT to do with popular Gov. Ronald Reagan coming out in a newspaper editorial saying he did not support the initiative. And there were a lot of folks in Southern California (such as Rev. Troy Perry) who were working against the measure, as well. What do you know about this time and how do you describe that period - ie what are the "take-away" lessons and how do you put Harvey in true perspective?

Stuart Milk: That is a great question and one that I can let Harvey answer so wonderfully for himself (below). I just love the part where Harvey says "I don't speak for the No on 6 campaign and "people canceled on you and you could not find anyone else so you got me." That was so very much the Harvey I knew and loved.

A version of this story was originally posted on LGBT POV.


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Thank you for this very moving piece.

Go get 'em, John Perez! Make us proud!