ShelburneIntroto Media ArtsDecember15, 2017 Milk and Prop 8 In 1978, Proposition 6, also knownas The Briggs Initiative, was a ballot that would have banned gays andlesbians, and possibly anyone who supported LGBT rights, from working in publicschools in California. Harvey Milk is considered the main reason the propositionfailed. The ballot seemed to be succeeding, but with Milk’s influence andcourage, shown through speeches and protests against the government’sdiscrimination, the voter turnout was 70.41% against the ballot. The 2008 film Milk showed Harvey Milk’s journey tobecoming a revolutionary symbol.
Then in 2017, the TV mini-series “When WeRise” follows Cleve Jones and other activists of the civil rights movementunder Milk. In 2008, before President Barack Obama had been elected, there wasa ballot similar to Proposition 6, called Proposition 8. This propositionproposed that people in same-sex relationships could not get married. UnlikeProposition 6, however, Proposition 8 passed and same-sex marriage was madeillegal in the state of California.
If the movie Milk had been released earlier, though, people believe it wouldhave cancelled Prop 8, just like Harvey Milk ruined Prop 6.Milk by Gus Van Sant is a feature-lengthfilm about the life of Harvey Milk who was the first openly gay man in theUnited States to be elected for public office. After two failed attempts, hewas finally placed on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. The movie portraysMilk has the leader of a national movement, which he was. He spoke out againstdiscrimination of gays, Latinx, African Americans, and many others, while alsobeing an ally towards anyone with his same goal, such as liberals, unions,teachers, etc. His goal was to make his people less persecuted and morevisible. Before Milk’s time, there were only a handful of gay rightsmilestones. After, however, the number skyrocketed.
Harvey Milk’s life touchedso many people, gay and straight, trans and cis, that Proposition 6 didn’t havea chance to win through the bigot minority. Milkcould have had the same effect if it had been released before Proposition 8could win. Milk began with a 48-year-old HarveyMilk recounting his experiences from the age of 40 to his present day. Itfollowed his love affairs, which started with his lover Scott Smith. It showedthem moving to the Castro District and opening a camera shop. They helped turnthe area into the gay capital, even though it was still a place wherediscrimination by homophobic police officers occurred.
Milk made manycompanions along his journey, including Cleve Jones, Jack Lira, and Dan White.He finally got a seat on the Board of Supervisors. One year later, Milk’s oldfriend, Dan White, assassinated him along with Mayor George Moscone. Milk’smurderer was a Catholic member of the Board of Supervisors, a former police officerand firefighter, but also a drunk, and while under the influence, he outedhimself as gay to Harvey Milk.
George Moscone was an early supporter of gayrights and gave many minorities positions of power. White had an argument withMoscone, who refused to give White his city council job back by influence ofMilk and other progressive members of the board. Dan White brought a .38revolver into City Hall on November 27, 1978. He shot Moscone four times, twicein the head and twice in the chest. He then found Milk and shot him twice inthe chest, once in the back, and twice again in the head1.
White pleaded to diminishedcapacity due to stress and depression. A defense therapist, Martin Blinder,said that the cause for this outburst of aggression was because before thecrime, he began eating a horrible diets of Coke and Twinkies and the sugar highmade it “impossible for him to form the intent necessary for a murderconviction.”2National newspapers coined the term the “Twinkie defense,”3 which is a term for anabsurd legal explanation for crime. After Milk’s time, gays were on therise. From the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in1979 to the District of Columbia allowing their residents to have a genderneutral option on their driver’s license in 2017. In between these dates, therewere so many more accomplishments.
In 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out as alesbian, which made her character on Ellenthe first leading role to be out on a prime time television show. Then in2009, President Barack Obama awarded Ellen Degeneres and the late Harvey Milkwith the Medal of Freedom. In 2012, President Obama became the first presidentto openly support gay marriage. In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Military EqualOpportunity policy had been changed to include gays and lesbians that served inthe military. Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of a UnitedStates military branch when he was placed as the Army’s secretary in 2016.
Later that same year, the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender people servingin the military. The latest great victory for LGBT people was in 2017 when thefirst openly transgender candidate, Danica Roem, was elected for the VirginiaHouse of Delegates. Despite all of these wonderfulachievements, gays still face a mountain of discrimination.4 Today, gay men are notallowed to give blood, and in some states sodomy is illegal and criminalizedsimply to oppose gay sex.
President Bill Clinton also passed laws pertaining togay people, but not in the way President Obama did. President Clinton passedthe “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill, that prohibited openly gay people fromserving in the military, but protected closeted homsexuals. He also signed theDefense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman ashusband and wife.
” This made it illegal for federal law to recognize gaymarriage. Gay people also face inadequate health care, including sexualeducation, or the lack thereof. If a place is lucky enough to have sex ed thatis more than “abstinence only,” it probably still doesn’t describe how to havesafe gay sex. Trans kids are not protected with anti-bullying initiatives nordo they have proper restroom policies. If anything, the government seems to bemoving backwards when it comes to equality. The President even discussedputting a ban on transgender people being able to serve in the military becausethey are a “burden” on taxes. On top of this, gay people are still being massmurdered.
For example, in Orlando, Florida at a gay nightclub, 49 people werekilled simply for their identity. People also can lose their jobs after theyfinally become legally married to their partner. Mississippi also passed a lawthat allowed business owners to turn away gay customers for their supposed”religious freedom.” Through the suffering, though, the LGBT community hasnever been stronger. More people are coming out and living their true lives.The more that the LGBTQIA+ community fights for their freedom, and gains it,the freer everyone else will be too.As mentioned previously, the reason Milk was delayed to premiere was becausethe director, Gus Van Sant, wanted the movie to live on after Obama’s election.If he had premiered it sooner, he could have helped kill Prop 8, similar to howHarvey Milk killed Prop 6.
Although Proposition 6 was devastating to so manypeople, it had melancholy bright sides. The Stonewall Riots exposed policebrutality and during that time and a mass of gays migrated to San Francisco,which became the gay capital of America. The Gay Liberation Front, the firstUnited States gay rights organization, also began as an effect of the socialclimate. Even as gays came out of the shadows and lived proudly, even in theliberal west coast, they still faced major discrimination.
It was hard for gaysto get jobs simply for being gay, and homelessness in the LGBT community waseverywhere, just like today in 2017. The Stonewall Riots is known forbeing the beginning of gay liberation5. Black drag queens rebelledagainst corrupt police officers, even though history whitewashed the milestone,making it seem as though it were white gay men who started this revolution6.
The riots were a series of violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTcommunity against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in 1969 in Greenwich, NewYork City. What triggered these riots were a multitude of situations. Therewere many political groups already in the thick of it, including the CivilRights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Along with this, GreenwichVillage was liberal, so together the riots were bound to happen. Leading up to1969 many homophile groups were trying to show that gays could be a part ofmodern society, including that they should have equal education toheterosexuals. After Stonewall, gays came out of the shadows and out of the closetand began making names for themselves. Way before this, though, in the 1530s,England passed the Buggery Act.
This made a criminal offense out of men havingsex with other men. The men in charge could not fathom two women being gay, sothe law said nothing of lesbians. Then, until 1861, Britain still criminalizedgay sexual acts, which was punishable by hanging. This fact is not to say thatthe discrimination against gays today is unimportant and doesn’t deserve to bediscussed, but it is important to understand how far society has come over thelast few centuries. In that time, more and more organizations for gayliberation were founded.
The first gay organization in America was the Societyfor Human Rights in Chicago, but it only lasted a short while until the policedisbanded it. Laws were also passed in favor for LGBT people. In 1972, Swedenbecame the first country to allow transsexuals to change their sex, along withfree hormone therapy. On top of this, the first Gay Liberation March and thefirst LGBT Pride Parade were held in 1970 in New York City7. Fortunately, Proposition 8 wasoverturned in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry8.
It was formerly known asPerry v. Brown and then Perry v. Schwarzenegger. This began in 2000 when California passed Prop22 that, like Prop 8, declared that the state only recognized the union of oneman and woman as legitimate marriage. Then, in 2008 the Supreme Court ofCalifornia declared that it was unconstitutional to not allow same-sex couplesto be included in the term “marriage,” which negated Proposition 22. Later thatsame year, though, is when Prop 8 was passed by California’s citizens.
Thismodified California’s constitution to say that “only marriage between a man andwoman is valid or recognized by California.”9 The California Supreme Courtannounced that “official proponents of a ballot initiative have authority toassert the state’s interest to defend the constitutionality of the initiativewhen public officials refuse to do so.” Two homosexual couples filed suit infederal court that the officials responsible for the law were violating theirFourteenth Amendment rights. When the state officials, along with then-governorArnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, could not defend thelaw on behalf of the constitution, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the NinthCircuit deemed the law unconstitutional. “When We Rise: My Life in theMovement,” written by Cleve Jones shows his journey during the gay liberationmovement and his life right alongside Harvey Milk.
The book was then turnedinto a docudrama miniseries in 2017, which was also directed by Gus Van Sant.Jones lived out Milk’s legacy and continues to today. He befriended Harvey Milkwhen he moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, and he eventually interned inMilk’s office while still at school. Jones is an AIDS and LGBT activist andbegan the “NAMES Project AIDS MemorialQuilt,” which was the largest piece of community folk art in its prime at anestimated 54 tons. The giant quilt was a memorial to everyone who had died dueto AIDS. Jones got the idea at the candlelight march memorial for Harvey Milkand Mayor George Moscone. It started with Jones people to write down the lateloved ones that they were marching for on a sign and tape it on the SanFrancisco Federal Building.
His end goal for the quilt was to bring awarenessto how big the AIDS pandemic truly was and to gain funds for AIDS research,education, and prevention. Many people that died from AIDS-related causes didnot get funerals or memorials because of the stigma felt by the families leftbehind and the fact that funerals and cemeteries refused to participate, so thequilt was the only chance many families got to say goodbye to their loved ones.On top of the mourning, each panel of names was the size of an average grave.This project was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and in 2002, it wasplaced in the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. “The Mayor of Castro Street: TheLife and Times of Harvey Milk,” which shows Milk’s early childhood until hislast moments, was written by Randy Shilts. It begins with him growing up inLong Island and him figuring out who he is and what his passions are throughhis teenage years, including him realizing his sexuality.
It describes his lifewhen he joined the US Navy during the Korean War. The book follows Milk throughall of his relationships, Joe Campbell to Scott Smith, and important lifedecisions, like settling down with Smith in the castro District with theirquaint camera shop and his political endeavours. He starts to make a differenceon a wide scale when he was elected to public office.
Shilts describes the lastparts of his life, from the 11 months he was in office to the day Dan Whiteassassinated him in cold blood. Finally, White’s trial and incarceration areput to paper. White and Milk at first were friends, until Milk voted against aproposal that went against White’s platform.
This is when the jealousy andhatred of Milk is believed to start. White had been convicted of voluntary manslaughterand only served five years. This sentencing sparked the most violent riotssince Stonewall. These were called the White Night Riots. After the riots hasalready broken up, though, police in riot gear raided a gay bar in SanFrancisco’s Castro District, resulting in thousands of dollars worth ofproperty damage and countless injuries inflicted upon rioters and officers.
Twothousand arrests were made that night and the SFPD was sued several times dueto this retaliation raid. Gay leaders refused to apologize for the riots andthis stubbornness increased the power LGBT people had in politics. DianneFeinstein, the board’s first female president, then appointed a pro-gay Policeof Chief, who in turn appointed many more gay police officers. Harvey Milk was an important milestone in thegay community. The community recently remembered him and celebrated his lifeand legacy on the 39th anniversary of the day he was assassinated, November27th.
He, as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office, changedthe LGBT community forever. Before him, there were milestones for thecommunity, but he showed that gay people can be in any position of power that astraight person can. This changed everyone’s mindset, gay and straight. Beforehim, there seemed to be more setbacks than progress. After him, however, gayswere finally starting to be seen as regular people. All minorities, not limitedto gays, are far from being treated as equal as the straight, cis white man,but I believe we can eventually get there.
Despite all the progress, everyonehas a long way still to go. When it is the norm for people to stand up forthemselves and others is when we can truly be equal and free. Bibliography”California Proposition 6,the Briggs Initiative (1978).” Ballotpedia,ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_6,_the_Briggs_Initiative_(1978).Accessed 31 Aug.
2017. “California Proposition 8,the.” Ballotpedia,ballotpedia.
org/California_Proposition_8,_the_%22Eliminates_Right_of_Same-Sex_Couples_to_Marry%22_Initiative_(2008).Accessed 31 Aug. 2017. “Bringing People Hope:Harvey Milk and the Gay Rights Movement in America.” Tavaana,tavaana.org/en/content/bringing-people-hope-harvey-milk-and-gay-rights-movement-america-0.
Accessed 31 Aug. 2017. Lim, Dennis.
“If Gus VanSant’s Milk had come out earlier, would Prop 8 still have passed?” Slate Magazine, 26 Nov. 2008,www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2008/11/harvey_would_have_opened_it_in_october.html.Accessed 31 Aug. 2017._145288.
html. DerrickClifton. “11 MajorObstacles to Equality That LGBT Americans Still Face in 2014.” Mic, Mic Network Inc.
, 25 Oct. 2015,mic.com/articles/92349/11-major-obstacles-to-equality-that-lgbt-americans-still-face-in-2014#.s16w39GA1. “ABrief History of Civil Rights in the United States: Proposition 8.
” Guides,guides.ll.georgetown.edu/c.php?g=592919=4182204. Epstein, Rob. “What HarveyMilk Tells Us About Proposition 8.
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