What A World

What A World: Dear Harvy

Oh, the things you miss when you become a martyr.

NancyFord at desk
Nancy Ford

By Nancy Ford

Harvey, you wouldn’t believe how our world has changed since Dan White shot you and Mayor Moscone 30 years ago.  

Not only have we gays and lesbians taken your advice to come out of our closets, we’ve come out in numbers unimaginable in your day. We have our own businesses and organizations and magazines, we’re kissing on primetime network television shows—we even have “normal” lives with kids and soccer practice and lawns in the suburbs. I know—who woulda thunk it? (I mean, other than you.) 

Following your election to San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1977, there are now 652 openly GLBT-elected and -appointed officials serving in leadership positions throughout North America. And that’s not even counting the closeted conservative ones. 

What does “GLBT” mean? Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We’re all on board now. 

We’ve had four marches on Washington since you died, all of them attended by thousands and thousands and thousands of queers who, following your example, refused to live a lie. You just missed the first one, in 1979. 

The second march, in 1987, featured Cleve Jones’ NAMES Project. You would have been so proud of your old pal’s collection of individual quilts stitched by bereaved folks in memory of their loved ones lost to AIDS. With its 40,000 individual panels, it has become so big that no single venue can display it all. 

What’s AIDS? Oh boy. 

There is random chatter about putting together another march on Washington, in 2010, this time focusing on marriage equality. Homosexuals already can actually get married in a couple of states. A few more states recognize that right, even though they’re called civil unions or domestic partnerships. It’s just a matter of time, or attrition, ’til the rest of the states fall into place. 

Our community has been honored with presidential proclamations issued in recognition of Pride month, though not in the last eight years. We’re likely to have more proclamations coming our way soon: our newest commander in chief actually said the “G” word during his victory speech on election night, including us in the full promise of America. And get this: he’s black! 

In fact, we are now so much a part of the national dialogue that even the current vice president’s daughter is an out lesbian! Yes! 

Here’s a funny story (well, not ha-ha funny; more like, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up funny): She and her long-term partner had a baby last year, while her father simultaneously supported amending the U.S. Constitution to negate his own daughter’s family. And then he shot some old guy in the face, but that’s another story for another letter.  

Oh—here’s another one I bet you never saw coming: little Liza Minnelli, Judy’s daughter, grew up to marry—and eventually divorce—not one but two gay guys!  

Less surprising, little Michael Jackson grew up to be Liza Minnelli.  

But back to the presidents. You missed a former president dancing with his wife alongside same-sex couples at one of his inaugural balls. That same president would later be impeached for lying about getting a blowjob in the Oval Office. From a woman. I knew you were wondering. 

You also missed Ronald Reagan. After the Republican actor was governor of your California, he went on to be simultaneously one of the most popular and most reviled presidents in U.S. history. Funny thing about California governors: the current one, another Republican actor, last month gave a thumbs-down to commemorating your legacy with a state holiday. 

But who cares? You do have an opera named after you—a memorial we all know you much prefer. Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie’s Harvey Milk debuted in 1995, right here in Houston. It was a proud moment for a city known more for its BBQ-stuffed baked potatoes than for its fine art. 

Actually, though it may sound a little boastful, Houston has left an undeniable, indelible mark in the pages of our history. In 1998, two guys were busted here for having sex together—privately, behind closed doors. The case, Lawrence vs. Texas, went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2003. A majority of the judges finally ruled that adults, regardless of their personal plumbing, have the right “to engage in private, consensual homosexual activity.”  

That’s right—we won in the freakin’ Supreme Court! What a day that was! 

Sorry you missed that, too. 

Hmm, what else? Well, in the ’80s, we became more and more connected locally, through our organizations. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays does amazing work to support our families. Pride committees put on parades in almost every major U.S. city. Hotlines like Houston’s Gay & Lesbian Switchboard take calls every day from teens like that desperate young man who called you one night from Altoona, Pennsylvania.  

The advent of the World Wide Web (a computer thing) connected us globally in the ’90s to organize, intellectualize, sexualize, fantasize, proselytize—whatever “-ize” you can imagine. When you log on to HarveyMilk.com, it takes you to the site of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. Kudos! 

Perhaps best of all, a truly amazing movie of your life was released last month, the day after the 30th anniversary of your assassination. It stars Sean Penn, a fine actor and activist who was once married to Madonna. Can’t wait to hear his Oscar acceptance speech. 

Who’s Madonna? Sorry, that story will have to wait ’til later, too. 

One more thing: a pack of Twinkies now costs $1.29. Why is that relevant, you ask?  

Hmmm. Never mind.


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