Harvey Milk and Dustin Lance Black: Heroes, Hope and Inspiration

By: Marta A.

In 2015 the US Supreme Court made a historical decision and recognised gay marriage at a federal level. Now it is the law of the land, marriage is between two people regardless of gender. To achieve this people have protested for equality in the streets for decades.

An example of one of these people is the screenwriter and activist Dustin Lance Black, whose most famous film, which he won an Oscar for, (Best Original Screenplay) is Milk. In his Oscar speech he made the promise that soon there would be equal right in federally in America. To full fill this promise, Dustin Lance Black has taken various actions but the one I would like to focus on in this article is how he shared his personal story where and whenever he could. As a screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tells stories in form of movies and sometimes plays, but as an activist he does so also in through his speeches. His personal story is very interesting and really speaks out about how important story telling is. One of the great turning points of his life was when a drama teacher showed him the recording of a Harvey Milk speech (see transcript below) as he saw himself as the child from San Antonio Harvey Milk was speaking to. This speech was shown to him when he was living in California, but originally he is from San Antonio Texas from a Mormon and military background so you can guess what that means for a gay child. Another turning point in his life was when he was in college and went back to his family, whom was now living in Virginia, for Christmas. That night his mother talked about don’t ask don’t tell and how she thought it didn’t make sense that as long as soldiers don’t come out they can be in the military. At that point Black couldn’t hold in the tears and at that moment his mother knew, without him saying anything that he was gay. Nothing got solved that night but when it was time for graduation that year and his mother came over to visit him it was a different story. Now, keep in mind Black still hadn’t told his roommates about what happened so they assumed his mother had accepted him and loved him for who he was so as Black remained ‘busy’ in the kitchen his roommates told her stories about their experiences as gay men. They shared their struggles to get accepted, the troubles with their families as well as their dating lives, as they were convinced she was very accepting. She might have not been accepting during the morning but after hearing all these stories form Black’s roommates, years of myths about gay, lesbian and bisexual people had been dispelled.

This story really shows the power of storytelling not only regarding the LGBT movement but in regards to anything. If we educate ourselves and I don’t mean that just by learning numbers and statistics, but I mean by learning about personal stories our hearts and minds can really change opinions.

So now back to the movie Milk which is what Dustin lance Black is most known for. Harvey Milk is not only Dustin Lance Black’s hero, but many other people’s heroes. He was an LGBT activists and the first openly gay person to be elected into public office. Until the age of 40, Milk had never really been interested or taken part in activism or politics. Around the time he moved to San Francisco in 1972 he became interested in politics as he witnessed the counterculture of the 1960’s and discrimination against the LGBT community. This led to him running for office three times unsuccessfully, but as his popularity increased he was nicknamed the “mayor of Castro Street,” which was one of the first gay neighbourhoods in the United States of America. In 1977 he won the election, which meant he won a seat in the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco. Unfortunately on November 27 1978, Milk and the San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone, were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor with conflicting opinions and decreasing popularity. In ten years, a man who used to be nobody because one of the most prominent figures and a hero of the LGBT community.

Personally I just find these stories amazing. I am very intrigued by the LGBT movement, as I would consider it one of the main civil right movements of our times, which our children will probably study about when they go to school. We have the privilege to be living and being able to see this movement therefore I really think it is important for us to learn about it because it not only relates to the LGBT community but to all minorities. The lesson of hope, going through struggle and fighting for ones rights are applicable to everyone as we are all part of a minority.

Harvey Milk’s Hope speech

“Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all the sudden realises that he or she is gay; knows that if their parents find out they will be tossed out of the house, their classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant’s and John Briggs’ are doing their part on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, and suicide. And then one day that child might open the paper that says Homosexual elected in San Francisco and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said Thanks. And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that thousand upon thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world; there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.”

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