Saturday, May 22, 2010

Today is Harvey Milk Day

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

Today is first official Harvey Milk Day, a day designated by the state of California to honor the gay rights activist.

Milk (1930-1978) is the only openly gay person in the United States to receive such a distinction. The bill establishing Harvey Milk Day was signed in to law last fall, so this is the first time that the holiday will be observed. State employees still have to work, but California public schools are encouraged to conduct suitable commemorative exercises.

Harvey Milk was born on May 22, 1930 (80 years ago today). He 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. He has been called a martyr for LGBT 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 inducted into the California Hall of Fame. 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 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.

Bookmark and Share


Kittredge Cherry said...

Harvey Milk Day really feel like an official holiday here in California where I live. We even got an email from an attorney general candidate reminding us, “Today would have been the 80th birthday of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California and a true hero of our state... I hope you will also take some time today to remember the contributions of this great Californian andthink about what you can do to continue his legacy of passion and equality.”

Well said!

pennyjane said...

ditto, kitt. a great man who made a real, tangible difference in the lives of untold numbers of us.

his legacy is worthy of much more than memorial, but of action!

he lived one of the most profound admonitions we have ever received..."you must BE the change you wish to see in the world."

much love and hope. pj

Trudie said...

Thank you for sharing this superb icon as well as the wonderful commentary.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I hope that you both had a wonderful Harvey Milk Day! Your comments mean a lot to me, PJ and Trudie.

Harvey Milk Day has just ended, bringing us to Pentecost Sunday. May the Spirit who set hearts on fire at the first Pentecost bring love to you and to all the world.