Wed Jan 28th, 2009 at 06:23:41 AM EST
"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door"
Those were the words of Harvey Milk, taped shortly before his assassination in November, 1978.
He was a good man, a brave man. The volume of hate mail during the election was such that on November 18, 1977, he recorded the quoted tape "in the event of his assassination." I can't imagine the kind of courage that took.
A year later, on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk was shot 5 times by a man named Dan White, a former cop, fireman, and County Supervisor himself. He also shot the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone.
front-paged with an edit by afew
So they finally made a movie about this and I went to see it last night. It was directed by Gus Van Sant and starred Sean Penn. This was meant to be a movie review, but somehow it's not working out that way. I've been wondering why all day and I think I finally figured it out -- it felt too personal. I can't muster the distance required of a critic.
I was 15 years old when Harvey Milk was shot, living in Los Angeles and already firmly identified as an outsider, a misfit, a "them." Or, as Harvey would have it, one of the "us-es."
And I felt things keenly, the way one does in youth. I HATED people who wanted to enforce the status-quo, impose their morality, and basically stomp on individuals because they were different. I was firmly on Harvey's side and thought my heart would break when I heard he died. Youth is so dramatic a time.
And it was a very well-made movie. Van Sant's deliberate pacing allows you to immerse yourself in the story, the times, the politics. Unlike many bio-pics, he didn't shortchange the politics. No. He very effectively used clips from the time. There was the young Dianne Feinstein, announcing the assassinations. There was Anita Bryant, spewing her crazy venom. God, how I loathed that woman! It all came flooding back! How had I forgotten just how visceral that feeling was?
I grabbed this from wikipedea, to give you an idea:
^ Bryant agreed to an interview with Playboy magazine, in which she was quoted saying that the civil rights ordinance "would have made it mandatory that flaunting homosexuals be hired in both the public and parochial schools ... If they're a legitimate minority, then so are nail biters, dieters, fat people, short people, and murderers." ("Playboy Interview: Anita Bryant", Playboy, (May 1978), p. 73-96, 232-250.) Bryant would often break into her standard "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" while speaking during the campaign, called homosexuals "human garbage", and blamed the drought in California on their sins.
The civil rights ordinance references was the political background of the film - a series of hateful anti-gay initiatives eerily similar to the recent Prop 8 battle.
Anyway, I'd gone to the film with my beloved, a good friend of ours, and his boyfriend. Our friend got a bit misty at the end. I feel I normally would have, too, but I just felt weary. At the end, they did that thing where they say what happens to everyone and Dan White, the assassin, had been sentenced to just over 7 years in prison.
After the movie, I was talking to our friend who, besides being an us in the gay sense, is also an us in the minority sense. He's a bit older than me and was saying he remembers White's trial vividly. His brother was on trial at the same time. White got 7 1/2 years for killing two people in cold blood. My friend's brother got double that for attempted murder. Where's the fairness in that, he asked.
All I could say was I didn't know. It's yet another issue still with us. So, yes, the movie made me weary, but it was good. I'm glad I saw it and I would recommend it. It's got heart and a good message -- keep fighting. It's really the only choice. Since I can't muster any fight myself at the moment, I'll leave you with some of Harvey's inspiring, hopeful words.
I'll never forget what it was like coming out...I'll never forget the looks on the faces of those who have lost hope, whether it be young gays, or seniors, or blacks looking for that almost-impossible-to-find job...
No it's not my election I want, it's yours. It will mean that a green light is lit that says to all who feel lost and disenfranchised that you can now go forward.
It means hope and we - no - you and you and you and, yes, you, you've got to give them hope.
And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope.
Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up.
And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.