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‘You Gotta Give Them Hope’

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More on Milk: Former Houstonian Buddy Johnston, now a San Francisco resident, recalls the life-changing words of Harvey Milk

By Buddy Johnston

Twenty-one years ago, I heard a radio broadcast on Pacifica radio (KPFT 90.1 FM) about the Houston Police Department harassing gay men in local bars. I was glued to every word. I had been working for HPD for several years, and I was not out at work. Some months later, I was invited to host my own radio show on KPFT. I didn’t know how HPD would react, but I finally got the courage to do it.

In September 1987, my early-morning program, After Hours, was born. Harvey Milk’s spoken words quickly became a regular part of my radio broadcast. I think my favorite words from Harvey were delivered the night the Briggs Initiative was defeated:

“We must destroy the myths once and for all, shatter them. We must continue to speak out, and most importantly, . . . every gay person must come out. . . . You must tell your immediate family, you must tell your relatives, you must tell your friends . . . you must tell your neighbors, you must tell the people you work with, you must tell the people in the store you shop in, and once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. . . .”

Harvey told us why we had to register to vote, why we must elect gay people to public office, and his most famous of all, “You gotta give them hope.”

Even though I never met him, Harvey’s words changed my life and gave me the power to say to listeners, “If I can work for the Houston Police Department and produce a weekly gay and lesbian radio program and be out of the closet, so can you.”

I was packing up to move to New York after the devastating death of Roger, my partner of almost 15 years, when I decided to make a trip to San Francisco—the home of Harvey Milk, and also of Cleve Jones, who had created the Names Project Quilt, and Gilbert Baker, who had sewn the first Rainbow Flag. After emotionally wrenching visits to the places where Harvey Milk had worked and hung out, my direction had changed. Instead of New York, I moved to San Francisco.

During this past spring and summer, I watched as the film Milk was being shot in and around the Castro. I was doubtful; I just didn’t believe anyone could do justice to Harvey’s life. But watching the Milk trailer on the web and in theaters, I once again began to weep; director Gus Van Sant has done Harvey justice. Sean Penn’s portrayal is 100 percent on target.

Between now and the release of Milk, go get a copy of the 1984 Academy Award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and share it with someone in your life, especially younger people in our community. Let them hear Harvey first hand. Let them get excited about his story and receive the power to give others hope. Harvey said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. . . . You gotta give them hope.”

If your life was touched by KPFT’s After Hours back in the late ’80s or anytime during the past 21 years, Buddy wants to hear from you. Drop him an e-mail at [email protected]

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