Famed Gay Rights
Harvey Milk was a famed gay rights activist and the first elected official in the country that was openly gay. Pat Rocco’s film documents images of Milk as the grand marshal of a 1978 gay pride parade in Los Angeles and shows clips of Milk’s “hope” speech given to a crowded group of onlookers. Milk’s words rally together the gay community and their supporters in opposition of Anita Bryant and the Briggs Amendment (Proposition 6) and encourage the audience to stand up for their rights. President Carter is also called upon to lead in the fight, “Jimmy Carter, listen to us. If you want to lead, if you want to be the world’s leader in human rights well dammit, lead” (Milk).
The politics of the 1970’s saw great democracy, legally much discrimination was gone. Expression of gender roles and sexuality were evolving and people no longer felt bound by social pressure. With this, conservatives began looking for ways to regulate sexuality. Anita Bryant led an anti-gay movement after she pushed to overturn an ordinance in Dade County, Florida, “prohibiting discrimination on the basis of affectional or sexual preferences” (Freeman 341). Bryant deemed homosexuality a sin and portrayed gays as sexual predators. In an article published in 1977 by B. Drummond Ayres Jr. of The New York Times, Bryant states, “If homosexuality were the normal way, God would have made Adam and Bruce.” Bryant’s efforts were successful and the ordinance was repealed. Gay rights legislation was reversed in cities across the nation and the Briggs amendment pushed for further bans on homosexual schoolteachers. Opposing gay rights became a nation wide movement, as did gay rights activism (Freeman 342).
Harvey Milk and his “hope” speech is significant because he spoke up for the rights of those that were being discriminated against, no matter the repercussions. Milk’s actions were brave, despite dangers he may face he spoke for what he believed in (Milk would be assassinated on November 27, 1978). He publically advocated for gays during a time when homosexuality was not widely accepted and many kept their sexuality a secret. Milk’s message was one of tolerance, inclusion, and hope. Cleve Jones, a student intern for Harvey Milk in 1978, said, “he was one of the first people to tell me that I had value as a human being and that I didn’t need to change.” Milk inspired a community to come together and he encouraged gays to come out of the closet and make their voices heard, “And if you help elect 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.” (Milk). His activism helped to defeat the proposed Briggs amendment. On October 5, 1978, Mervin Field of Field Poll wrote of Milk’s impact on the issue stating, “there had been a major shift in voters’ views of the measure, Proposition 6, in just a month-with support plunging from 61 percent to 45 percent.”
Harvey Milk, his message, and his movement continue to matter. Many attribute Milk’s work to the increasing acceptance and appreciation of the gay community seen today. Rafael Mandelman, an openly gay man and current member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (position once held by Milk), says, “Today young queer professionals certainly can be in San Francisco and be out and proud and work at Salesforce, or you know, in real estate or banks or any aspect of American business and do just fine” (Shafer).