I went out with some friends tonight to see the new movie Milk at a nifty old (yet well preserved) theater near work. The film depicts the elements of Harvey Milk‘s personal and public life that lead him to become a political leader in San Francisco and activist in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. I had heard of Milk and knew that he was important, but I am sadly lacking in my queer history knowledge, so prior to watching the film, I did not know very much about anything that happened in it.
I was surprised at both how much things have improved for non-heterosexual Americans over the past three decades, and also by how many more barriers to true equality have been erected by those who fear it. The movement to defeat California’s Proposition 6 in 1978 was dealing with much more overt hatred and fear than those fighting Proposition 8 this year, and yet they managed to win against all odds. Those of us who do not remember or were not a part of the anti-Prop 6 movement need to sit down and figure out how they did what they did and where the anti-Prop 8 movement went wrong if we are going to find a way to gain back the hard-fought equal rights that were taken away from families in California this fall.
When I first began coming out to friends and colleagues, I was more afraid of their disapproval or being shunned than of any fear of my life. However, after having the violence that was perpetrated against gays and lesbians in the 1970s so vividly depicted before my eyes, I realized that I am lucky that I don’t have to live in fear of my life because of who I am. And yet, the fear and hatred and violence that is still perpetuated against my queer brothers and sisters in this country makes me hesitate. Am I really as safe as I think I am? What are the odds that I will cross paths with someone who will hate me and wish to harm me because of who I love?
I don’t have the strength to devote my life to fighting for equal rights like Milk did, but I can stand up and speak my mind. I am a citizen of this country. I have every right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as you do. You are free to do as you wish, believe what you will, as long as it does not hinder my rights, and I the same. Love it or leave it — that is what it means to be a Citizen of the United States of America.