In 1978, an initiative called Proposition 6 was placed on the California ballot. The goal of Proposition 6 was to fire all LGBT people teaching in public schools as well as anyone who supported them. In its early stages, the bill was widely supported due to the anti-gay propaganda that insinuated that all gays were social deviants, criminals, and pedophiles.
It was clear that action needed to be taken, but there seemed to be a lack of consortium within the LGBT community. It wasn’t until the newly-appointed San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk stepped up to the plate and led the fight against Prop 6 that the initiative faced any formidable adversary. At the election on November 7, 1978, the Proposition 6 was defeated.
Harvey Milk did what few had done in the past. He had a skill for creating community and had the ability to mobilize a large number of supporters to rally behind the cause. While his support was not unanimous across the LGBT community, he was widely respected, and paved the way in making the LGBT community a political force not to be reckoned with.
There is a lot we can learn from Harvey today. Harvey reminds us all why we are activists. Many people focus on the broad reaching goals of LGBT activism. They focus on the grand scale of the change that activism can create. But Harvey’s approach was different. For him, it was about the individual. He created political change so that he could affect people at a very personal level. He wanted to become Supervisor so that the people who had nowhere to turn and no one to turn to could have a source of inspiration and hope.
Harvey is best known for his message of hope. It is a very simple concept, really, but so often does that message get lost in the hullabaloo of activist life. To me, Harvey reminds me of why I am an activist, why I founded BAYS, and how I should be as a human being. I am an activist so that individuals can have better lives, and have more hope for their future.
BAYS fights bullying, but is it so different than fighting Proposition 6? Proposition 6 was institutional bullying, but bullying nonetheless. There is a lot to learn from Harvey, notably the importance of community, and the importance of individual empowerment. Harvey Milk taught me the power of hope. I know for me, personally, Harvey still gives me hope, and that hope fuels me, drives me to make schools safer for every student. I hope that you can find the same inspiration from Harvey that I have found, and hopefully you can pass some of the hope along as I hope I am doing, too.
Happy Harvey Milk Day, and for more information on Milk, watch “Milk” (of course), but also check out the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk.”