Tuesday, February 24, 2009


You know I haven't even seen the damn movie yet, but it's getting talked about a lot on campus and in the blogosphere, and after writing a rather large comment at Renee's place, I knew I should post here as well.

So Sean Penn won for Milk and I'm sure he was very good. (I was happier to hear of Heath Ledger's win, to be honest) And the acceptance speeches of him and writer Dustin Black are getting circulated.

Well, we talked about this in my Variations in Human Sexuality class today. My professor is a gay man who was active in the community in those days and introduced himself to us as "sex radical" on the first day of class. He gave us a quote from Harvey Milk and talked about how he didn't understand how either of these guys could tie Milk to the efforts of Prop 8.

He also told us about a rally he went to, in November, remembering 25 years since Harvey had been shot, and the first woman Supervisor spoke at it. Carol Ruth Silver got elected in the same elections as Milk and worked with him. She was also on Dan White's kill list, but was out at a meeting when he came to the offices. That day at the rally she spoke about Harvey and asked the crowd what they thought he would be working on now.

"Prop 8!!!!" many people yelled out.

No, she said, he'd be working to end the drug war. The LGBT people caught up in that horrendous national policy would be what concerned him now. Prop 8, he probably wouldn't have cared about much, and the reason why is in the quote my teacher gave us:

"As homosexuals, we can't depend on the heterosexual model. We grow up with the heterosexual model, but we don't have to and we should not follow it. We should be developing our own lifestyle. We must take the rights associated with marriage and give them to everyone. There's no reason you can't love more than one person at a time."
(1978) The Weekly Standard

My teacher went on to talk about, can you imagine if the benefits you get from marriage, you could give them to whoever you wanted? What if your sister is really the one who needs medical insurance? What if grandparents could have rights to their grandchildren to provide this stuff for them? What if everyone got these tax breaks? What if we weren't so bound by this strict nuclear heterosexual family model? He said that was the sort of change that Harvey Milk was interested in, not in replicating dominant culture norms, but figuring out better ways.

There are also some problems I have with what they chose to do with Milk, itself. Harvey was not THE leader against the Briggs Initiative. He was one of many, but the people he got to run that campaign were Bill Krause and Gwen Craig (a black lesbian). Somehow, they didn't make it in the movie (or onto Wikipedia, I had to put them in), though I hear there is a shot where a black woman who is supposed to be Craig is literally in the background of a crowd. The only reason I even know this is because I happen to go to an awesome university where another teacher of mine was one of the organizers behind a panel in San Francisco on the concerns about Milk called "Skim Milk".

I hate the way gay history gets white washed, in more ways than one. Symbols are made of people, and they are reinterpreted through our own cultural lens (hello media) and then given whatever meaning we want them to have. It makes it difficult to love these things (movies especially) as much as I want to.