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Melanie Nathan

Views & Voices

When Harvey met Sally…

Harvey Milk's legacy provides the inspiration to many
Thursday, February 7, 2013

Had Harvey Milk lived he might have been the one to set the benchmark for full equality, something our LGBT movement has yet to do. Harvey did not survive and never had the opportunity, yet his legacy has provided inspiration to so many. What remains often untold and so profoundly significant is Harvey’s absolute insistence on the imperative of full inclusion within the gay movement itself.

Harvey insisted: “I think its vital that the minorities, the traditional ethnic minorities, and the gays and the feminists link together…”

Harvey had met Sally and they did link together.

Sally Miller Gearhart (left) with Melanie Nathan.

Sally Miller Gearhart, the famed feminist activist and scholar fought alongside Harvey Milk, to help defeat California Proposition 6, known as the “Briggs Initiative.” Proposition 6 sought to ban homosexuals from academic and teaching positions, playing on myth and fear that homosexuals were out to recruit and hurt children.

Teaching at San Francisco State University, Sally was the first open lesbian to obtain a tenure-track faculty position in the United States, and together with Harvey, co-chaired the United Fund Against The Briggs initiative, a rainbow coalition of minorities, feminists and gays, spear-heading many of the events surrounding the fight against Briggs.

In combating the initiative, Sally famously debated John Briggs on TV together with Harvey, in their first ever TV appearance. The famous debate was reenacted in the Hollywood feature film Milk, which, in 2009, won 2 academy awards, including best original screenplay. However Sally was never featured in the Hollywood film at all.

In the actual TV debate John Briggs said, “We cannot prevent child molestation so lets cut our odds down and take out the homosexual group (of teachers) and keep in the heterosexual group.” Sally retorted: “ Why take out the homosexual group when it is more than overwhelmingly true that it is the heterosexual men, I might add, that are the child molesters?” Briggs responded, “Well I believe that’s a myth” and Sally jumped back by citing Government data:- “Ah, Senator the FBI, the National Council on Family Relations, The Santa Clara County Child Abuse and Sexual Treatment Center, and on and on and on, (report this.)”

Not only was Sally Gearhart’s role ignored in the film MILK, but these lines from the actual debate were modified and given to Harvey instead.

“That was not history that was Hollywood,” Sally told Kristina Lapinski in an interview for the documentary film GAY U.S.A. the Movie.

Sitting in on the interview it became clear to me that although Sally felt hurt that she had been snubbed by the film, she was more concerned that the critical feminist role had been excluded from Milk.

As it happened Sally was preparing to archive her memorabilia and after the interview she showed us the numerous pictures and newspaper articles of her involvement with Harvey. It was clear Sally Gearhart’s personal impact on the movement was inextricably woven with that of Harvey Milk.

Even though Anne Kronenberg was depicted in the movie Milk as Harvey’s campaign manager, Sally saw her Milk omission as a “rejection by gay men in Hollywood,” of the importance of the feminists at the time and perhaps an indication of an ongoing marginalization of women in the movement.

Feminism and the gay movement were both developing in the 70’s and “feminism was part of Harvey’s fight,” noted Sally. Harvey’s magnificent legacy is one where he made it clear that all should be embraced and full inclusion would be imperative to the success of our movement.

It has been thirty-four years since Harvey Milk was assassinated and women have yet to attain gender equality, while LGBTI Americans remain with limited legal rights. During this election cycle we saw the Republicans wage war on the strides that have been made by the feminist movement in this country.

Surely the LGBT movement should take the added cue from President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration speech, where in essence he is calling for full equality, and including all: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” Obama said. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law…”

Embracing the Harvey Milk philosophy, the time could not be better than now where we would be best served to fully realize the importance of feminists, as imperative allies, while we all move together in our quest for full equality.

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1 more reader comments:

  1. Hmm…. The 70′s were also the time when radical feminists were fighting to remove the trans community, including the drag queens, from the gay community. That was a particularly ugly time and one which was not popular with gay men.

    Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 5:16pm