Commentary

Harvey Milk’s civil rights legacy lives on, sailing the high seas

Former beauty queen and Florida Orange Juice Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant, for example, spearheaded her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign, which succeeded in overturning a gay-rights ordinance in Dade Country, Florida in 1977. The ordinance was finally reinstated in 1998. According to Bryant, “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.”

These stereotypes have been validated institutionally. The 1992 Republican Party platform openly endorsed this oppression, stating that “[The Republican Party] opposes any legislation or law which legally recognizes same-sex marriages and allows such couples to adopt children or provide foster care.” In fact, some states still explicitly ban LGBT people from adopting or serving as foster parents.

In recent years, the fear of alleged pedophilia had been used to justify the ban on gay and bisexual Boy Scouts and Boy Scouts of America leaders as argued by Rob Schwarzwalder, vice president of the conservative Washington, D.C.-based public policy and lobbying organization, Family Research Council (FRC): “The reality is, homosexuals have entered the Scouts in the past for predatory purposes.”

FRC President Tony Perkins, in a 2011 fundraising letter for the organization addressing the LGBT communities’ so-called public promotion of homosexuality to youth, wrote: “The videos are titled ‘It Gets Better.’ They are aimed at persuading kids that although they’ll face struggles and perhaps bullying for ‘coming out’ as homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion), life will get better. …It’s disgusting. And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”

Harvey recorded a will that was to be played in the event of his assassination. In it he stated that he never considered himself simply as a candidate for public office, but rather, always considered himself as part of a liberation movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* people, and a liberation movement for all people.

Each time Harvey spoke in front of a crowd, he urged people to come out everywhere and often: “Tell your immediate family,” he would say. “Tell friends, neighbors, people in the stores you shop in, cab drivers, everyone.” And he urged heterosexual and cisgender people to be our allies, to interrupt derogatory remarks and jokes, to support us and offer aid when needed. If we all did this, he said, we could change the world.

In his relatively brief time with us, Harvey Milk left an indelible mark and invaluable gift by changing lives. He has earned the lasting, enthusiastic, and unqualified esteem of the countless people he touched, and we deeply and sorely miss him. During his time here, he did not simply walk, but in fact, he paved a path of justice and decency.

Though his killer may have destroyed his body, and his detractors then and now may have attempted to slander his reputation and malign and vilify his work, they will never succeed in extinguishing his legacy or destroying his spirit, or in terminating the heart of a community and a movement for social justice, for Harvey’s life-force continues, inspiring a new generation, a nation, and a world.

Harvey served in the Navy for four years. His legacy not only inspires us landlubbers, but it will now sail the high seas.

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