“The Mayor of Castro Street”
The Legacy of Harvey Milk
The Mayor of Castro Street, The Life and Times of Harvey Milk was the perfect biography to choose for this project. It not only tells the story of his life and short, radical political career, it also tells of the aftermath of his death, and what it meant to so many people. The most noted gay movement before the 1970’s and 80’s U.S. movement was in pre-World War II Germany. H. Lucas Ginn states that there were more gay bars and periodicals in 1920 Berlin, the capitol of Gay Germany, than there were in 1980 New York. This movement was of course squashed by the Nazi persecutions. The bravery and gumption to participate in another such movement, one for people for who are cruelly considered fruits or dykes, this time in America, fell in part to Harvey Milk. During a battle to stop a proposition in California that would investigate and fire all possible homosexual teachers, Harvey Milk wrote these verses: “I can be killed with ease, I can be cut right down, But I cannot fall back into my closet, I have grown, I am not by myself, I am too many, I am all of us” (Shilts 287). He has become a symbol of hope for all minorities. His constant mantra was always “You gotta give them hope” (Cloud 1). Instead of being simply a liberal, he always focused on bettering society brick by brick by campaigning for the things that he knew needed to be fixed. He considered gays who only supported their liberal friends weak, and fought simply for his own ideals, not for his political party (Shilts 80). Harvey Milk affected the course of gay history, and ultimately furthered the ideal of civil rights and complete equality for all people. The author, Randy Shilts, was also a homosexual and was one of the first openly gay journalists hired at a major newspaper. So technically, this book is written from a biased perspective. But this isn’t really an issue. True logic can’t be found in these complex social relationships, so it should only be the persecuted who get to tell the story. Well, at least their story should be respected the most. As a gay man, Randy Shilts is fully qualified to relate the events so close to his heart. He died of AIDS in 1994. The book focuses on the progression of gay intolerance and gay history as well as Harvey’s life, first as a drifting homosexual, then as an upstanding politician. Such historical events as the Stonewall Riot in New York and the closing of the Black Cat Gay bar in San Francisco are editorialized. Harvey was born in 1930 to heterosexual parents, with one older brother, who he was estranged from him because of his sexuality for the duration of his life. It was only after his death that Robert Milk would claim Harvey as his brother. Presumably this is because he didn’t want bad press. As a youth, he acted quite normal, though he knew he was gay at the age of fourteen. “Harvey Milk would strain, sweat, and wrestle to keep the difference a secret only a few could know” (Shilts 3). People thought him a nice, funny guy. Most people never suspected what he would become. He never came out to his parents, he kept it a secret from the mother he loved and the father he was trying to make proud, or at least not ashamed. He knew the fear that all homosexuals knew in those times. “The constant fear of the loose phrase, the wrong pronoun, the chance moment, the misspoken word that might give it all away (Shilts 29). Police brutality was so common that most ordinary people thought that it was just part of society. Cop cars would drive slowly down streets and find a man sashaying, minding his own business. They’d call him ‘faggot’ and beat him to within an inch of his life. Most policemen were never reprimanded. Plainclothes cops would stake out movie theaters, just waiting for a slight hint of something ‘fruity’ to arrest or sentence to prison. Months after his high school graduation, Milk joined the navy where he covertly continued his homosexual...
Cited: Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. United States of America: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1982. Print.
Cloud, John. “The Pioneer HARVEY MILK.” Time 14 June 1999 : 1-3. Web. 15 May 2011.
Ginn, Lucas. “Gay Culture flourished in pre-Nazi Germany.” Update 12 October 1995. Web. 15 May 2011.
The Times of Harvey Milk. Dir. Rob Epstein. Black Sand Productions, 1984. Film.
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