Friday, November 27, 2009

Gay rights pioneer: Harvey Milk

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

Harvey Milk (1930-1978) is the first and most famous openly gay male elected official in California, and perhaps the world. He became the public face of the GLBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978 (31 years ago today). 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. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the state of California designated his birthday (May 22) as Harvey Milk Day. 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.”
This post is part of the new 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.


Anonymous said...

I loved this icon from the moment I first saw it in a bookstore in San Francisco in the 1980s!

pennyjane hanson said...

our loss is heaven's gain and our inspiration. harvey...(i think he'll forgive my intimacy....i can't seem to think of him in other than affectionate terms) is one of the real inspirations in the lives of so very, very many.

his being "out" was the butterfly that started the effect. he shocked us with possibility, he delighted us with pride, he booted us in the butt with dignity. he engineered the highway design and left us no option but to build and to forever expand upon that highway of hope.

everyone who today lives in the light owes at least a flicker to his memory.

may he now be resting in peace.

much love and hope. pj

KittKatt said...

Thanks, Penny Jane. I'm glad that you’re letting your light shine here.

And amen to Anonymous -- This icon also served as my own introduction into the possibility of contemporary saints. The copyright is 1987, so we must have seen it soon after it was created.