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Altoona, Pennsylvania

20 Apr

Due to life, I haven’t written in quite some time. And I’m not sure when I’ll write again, but I noticed something tonight I wanted to let you know about.

I’m on the mailing list for the anti-gay hate group, the National Organization for Marriage, which I’ve written about several times. They’re known primarily for spreading lies about LGBT families and screwing up amicus briefs when marriage equality is discussed in our court system. They’re signature event is an anti-gay hate march they hold in Washington DC each year titled “The March for Marriage.” I’ve attended twice and taken photos to show just how few people are showing up for their hate marches. Both years, they’ve publicly inflated their numbers by 1000-2000%.

But today, I received an email from NOM stating:

“I just received a phone call from a lovely couple in Altoona, Pennsylvania, who have chartered a bus and gathered 30 of their friends to come to the March for Marriage next weekend! Isn’t that wonderful?”

It seems like your usual fib. A made up phone call trying to show that anyone from anywhere can bring people to this hate march – but there is something different about this one. Altoona, Pennsylvania. Altoona is a small city, with a population just under 50,000. Nothing to write home about. But to those of us who’ve studied the history of LGBT equality, or just to those of us who saw the movie, “MILK,” Altoona, Pennsylvania seems a touch familiar.

From the tape recording made by Harvey Milk, to be played in the event of his assassination:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it’s about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

I’d never heard of Altoona, Pennsylvania before I saw a documentary about Harvey Milk. Is it coincidence that the young man who called Harvey Milk was from the same town that NOM got a mysterious call from as well? Or is NOM purposefully trying to troll LGBT equality organizers by throwing in a dog whistle from a very famous Harvey Milk quote? I’ve certainly got my suspicions.

Photo (c) Danny Nicoletta

Photo (c) Danny Nicoletta

 

Arrested for a New Year’s Kiss

31 Dec

Tonight, after you finish the countdown, commemorate the moment with a tribute to what happened December 31, 1966. At the stroke of midnight, make sure you kiss him “on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

The men and women at San Francisco’s Black Cat, a small gay bar, were awaiting that magical moment – that second where men and women around the world make that declaration of love to enter the new year. The seconds ticked to zero, and like millions of others, the couples at the Black Cat locked lips and welcomed 1967.

At that moment, at least eight plainclothes officers emerged from the crowd and began viciously beating and arresting the kissing couples. As these kisses constituted criminal “lewd conduct,” the arrests and the raid on the bar were seen as legal. The officers refused to identify themselves as the violence escalated and they began ripping holiday decorations from the walls. A bartender was dragged by the police over and across the bar through broken shards of glass. A customer had his head bashed into a jukebox and was then arrested.

Nearby, at the New Faces bar, similar attacks and arrests were occurring. When the female co-owner and  asked police for identification, she was mistaken for a man in drag (another arrestable offense) and pistol whipped so badly that she had to be hospitalized. Robert Haas, a 120-pound waiter came from the back of the bar to help. He was dragged into the street and beaten so severely that his jaw was broken and his spleen ruptured. He was then booked and charged for felony assault against a police officer before being taken to Los Angeles County General Hospital for treatment.

Six Black Cat kissers were tried and convicted of “lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place”, which consisted of male couples hugging and kissing. According to the police report, one couple had “kissed on the mouth for three to five seconds.”

Two years prior to the Stonewall Uprising, these events energized the LGBT community to begin fighting back. They raised money for a legal defense fund and successfully fought the police and the charges in the courts. Additionally, they were able to get some of the mainstream media on their side. The telling of our stories in a public forum helped turn the tide for San Francisco to finally elect someone like Harvey Milk to public office.

As we enter 2012, spend some time being grateful for the enormous strides we’ve made – specifically in 2011. But don’t forget that we have a long way to go. Keep telling your stories as we move ahead and keep talking about equality.

Happy New Year!

If a bullet should enter my brain…

27 Nov

By now, most of us have seen the Academy Award-wining film, Milk. While Milk presented a much-untold history, the true impact of this film is now being measured by the vast numbers of young people who found the courage to come out after seeing it, and in conversations about historic LGBT contributions around the globe.

It was on this day, 33 years ago, former Republican San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White took a gun to City Hall. He climbed through a lower-level window to avoid metal detectors and proceeded to Mayor George Moscone’s office. White had resigned his office and went into Moscone’s office hoping to be re-appointed to the seat he’d resigned from. When Moscone refused, White shot and killed him. With extra ammunition, he proceeded to the office of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to be elected to a major city office. White proceeded to shoot Milk 5 times – the final two shots had White pressing his gun directly at Milk’s skull according to the medical examiner.

Harvey Milk had pre-recorded a message after receiving several anti-gay death threats during his political career. The message said “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.” Dan White went on to be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Despite White’s later statements that he was “on a mission” and  “wanted to kill four of them,” he was not found guilty of pre-meditating anything due to his poor diet.

White’s lawyers claimed that while usually a healthy man, White had been consuming many sugary foods, which led to his mental state. This became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” White went on to serve just 5 years of the very lenient 7 year sentence. 2 years later, White committed suicide by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to inside his car.

Following the guilty verdict, men and women rioted outside San Francisco City Hall. Hours after the riots had ended, Police made a retaliatory raid on the streets of the Castro District and the Elephant Walk Bar (now renamed ‘Harvey’s”). Two dozen arrests were made during that raid and the riots, and in the following weeks, after being called upon to apologize, gay leaders refused. The political leverage gained from these events led to the election of Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein then appointed a pro-gay chief of police who actively recruited gays into the city’s police force.

Dianne Feinstein, who is now a U.S. Senator, is leading the way for LGBT equality by sponsoring the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Happy Anniversary, Harvey! Let’s Make Him Proud.

7 Nov

November 8, 1977. On this day, 34 years ago, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to office in a major U.S. city. His assassin, Dan White was also elected that day.

While Harvey inspired many while he was alive, it wasn’t until the Academy Award-winning film was released a few years ago that he became a household name. Since then, dozens of openly-gay elected officials have followed in his footsteps. Organizations like the Victory Fund have helped to see LGBT leaders elected all over the country – from bluer states like Rhode Island to the reddest of states like Texas.

Harvey understood that by electing gay people to office, it would give young people hope. He understood that by seeing openly-gay people in positions of power and leadership would know that they could too, succeed.

Tomorrow, dozens of LGBT candidates will face voters. One of those candidates (though a longshot at unseating an incumbent) is Bevan Dufty, a San Francisco City Supervisor who is sitting in the very same seat that Milk served in 34 years ago. Victory Fund highlights “10 Races to Watch” for those interested in seeing more LGBT candidates make history.

Not to pick any one of these out as I’m sure they are all wonderful candidates, but openly-gay 22 year-old and Point Foundation scholar Alex Morse is running for Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts. As a Mass. native, I’m especially proud to see this going on. Daniel Hernandez Jr. – the young gay man who saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is also running for office in his local school district.

Please check out Victory Fund’s full list of “10 Races to Watch”:

Zach Adamson, Indianapolis City Council – Adamson could become Indianapolis’ first openly LGBT city council member.  Learn more here.

Caitlin Copple, Missoula, Montana City Council – Missoula has become a focal point of the Montana debate over LGBT non-discrimination laws.  Copple’s election would add an authentic voice from the LGBT community to this discussion and many others concerning her community.  Learn more here.

Bevan Dufty, San Francisco Mayor – A former San Francisco Supervisor who represented the same district as Harvey Milk for 8 years, Dufty is prepared to continue Milk’s legacy and serve as the top elected official in the city.  A victory in this race would make him San Francisco’s first openly LGBT mayor.  Learn more here.

Patrick Forrest, Virginia State Senate – If he wins, Patrick would become the only openly LGBT Republican state legislator in America, and one of the first openly LGBT members of the Virginia Senate.  Learn more here.

Daniel Hernandez, Jr., Sunnyside Unified School District Board of Governors, Tucson, Ariz. – When his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot along with numerous others at a district event in Tucson, Hernandez sprang into action and is credited with helping to save Giffords’ life.  The world marveled at his quick thinking and leadership qualities on display that day, and many have urged him to consider a career in public service.  Learn more here.

LaWana Mayfield, Charlotte, N.C., City Council – Mayfield’s primary victory made national news because Charlotte has never elected an openly LGBT city council member.  She’ll finish the job and join the council if she wins her general election.  Learn more here.

Pam Miller, Savannah, Ga., City Council – Miller could become the first openly LGBT candidate in Georgia to win outside the Atlanta metro area.  Learn more here.

Alex Morse, Mayor, Holyoke, Mass. – At just 22, Morse already has a public service record to rival candidates twice his age.  In the primary he bested the incumbent mayor by a single vote.  He could make history this November as the city’s youngest and first openly LGBT mayor.  Learn more here.

Rory Neuner, Lansing, Mich., City Council – Neuner has already worked to make Lansing a better city, and her door-to-door campaign for city council could make her the only openly LGBT city council member.  Learn morehere.

Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati, Ohio, City Council – Seelbach has already been instrumental in making Cincinnati a more welcoming place for all families.   Now he could become its first openly LGBT city council member.

If voting is taking place in your state, town or district, please make sure you vote. Staying home is not an option. Obviously support the candidate who best speaks to you and your family’s needs, but above all, do not stay home. Our futures depend on it.

WATCH AND SHARE: The Kids Are Listening

4 May

With the non-stop influx of social media nowadays, it takes something really special to break through and make you take more than a glance at something. And today, this little video popped up on my facebook feed and I knew I had to do more than take a glance:

I followed through to the website listed on the video and I discovered what looks to be a moving and desperately-needed campaign aimed at improving the lives of LGBTQ foster youth. This is quite clearly the most underserved portion of our community and we must do more to include these kids in our conversations around equality.

According to the campaign running The Kids Are Listening website:

The Opening Doors Project works to make life better for LGBTQ youth today. The project is dedicated to training and supporting the legal and social service professionals on the front lines to ensure that LGBTQ foster youth have the support they deserve and the rights they demand.

Through on-the-ground trainings, local task forces and comprehensive research and training material The Opening Doors Project provides the legal community with the advocacy tools they need to successfully represent LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Also on the site, you can sign up to receive more information from the campaign. The pledge you sign is also linked to the It Gets Better Project.

So many organizations and campaigns come and go and I truly hope to see more from the people who put together this stirring video. Please share the video wherever you can and visit their site to find out more.

NY Gov Cuomo Kicking LGBT Homeless Youth to the Curb

29 Mar

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

It seems that New York City’s LGBT homeless youth are under attack again. The most vulnerable of our community are facing further budget cuts – this time from the Governor’s office.

Just in time for Christmas last year, Mayor Bloomberg announced major budget cuts, including most of the budget of the Ali Forney Center. Ali Forney caters specifically to LGBT homeless kids, providing enough beds for just a fraction of the kids out there who need them. At the last minute, City Speaker Christine Quinn and others on the City Council saved the day and restored the funds.

Now, as part of the Governor’s budget cuts, he is planning on sending thousands of homeless youth back to the streets. This includes LGBT kids who are at drastically higher rates of risk when it comes to drug use, STD infections including HIV, depression, violence and suicide.

Change.org has issued a petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo to send him a message that these kids need our protection and care. They do not deserve to be kicked to the curb so that we can give larger breaks to millionaires. Please sign the petition and send the message to Governor Cuomo that our kids are our first priority.

A Gay and Lesbian Museum: There’s A Space For US

12 Jan

After a decade of searching, the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society has found a San Francisco location for the first ever LGBT History Museum in the United States. The Museum opening marks the 25th Anniversary of the Society and will feature two opening exhibits: Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History,” curated by historians Gerard Koskovich, Don Romesburg and Amy Sueyoshi; and in the front gallery, “Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives.”

We have written several times about the importance of history and about preserving and reflecting on our past. The opening of this museum is an important moment in our movement.  If we don’t do the hard work of educating younger generations on past struggles, victories, and personal stories, we allow someone else to revise our history.  We have our own stories to tell, remember, and cherish:

“Telling our stories transforms our lives and our society and takes us out of the margins,” said Don Romesburg, a curator and assistant professor of Sonoma State University‘s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. “The museum is at the heart of that project.”

This is a great step for our community.

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