Harvey Milk

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Harvey Milk

Harvey MilkHarvey Milk was the first openly homosexual man to be elected into the American public office. He ran many campaigns and participated in debates, standing up for equal gay rights. He made huge contributions to the generally accepting society that we have today.Background: The situation during 1970s America was quite difficult for those who were gay. There was a dramatically increasing amount of discrimination because of the rising number of homosexuals who were coming out of their closets, and the growing influence of the Bible on the American people, contributing even more backlash and violence against gays to an already unaccepting Christian-based society. At the time, many homosexuals and transexuals flocked to the developing gay community in San Francisco, as the rest of America began to persecute the openly gay. Yet still, all over America, there were on-the-spot arrests to those who were confirmed or suspected to be gay by the general public. Police officers would arrest people who seemed even remotely gay for simply walking in a park in, say for example, a dress or non-masculine wear for a male or masculine clothes on a female. Undercover officers would even strike up conversations with suspected homosexuals, and if the conversation began to lean towards the possibility of confirming homosexual behaviour, then the person would thus be arrested and even thrown in jail. Police conducted frequent raids upon gay hangouts and safe places, often followed by papers and the media to openly and publicly shame these people for being gay, telling the entire world and helping target these innocent people to abuse. There were even lynchings by the community who were hoping to eradicate homosexual influence from their communities. Many gays were murdered and shot in cold blood, and the police would do nothing to conduct an investigation, and if one was so happened to be done, then it would be completed in a discriminatory and judgemental manner. In fact, homosexuals were often picked upon and brutally beaten up by police, the very people expected to protect and serve the community, for no reason whatsoever. Lesbian females who tried to emerge into a career as a policewoman were also shot down by their peers, followed by more insults and homophobic remarks. Notable specific examples of violence against homosexuals include the murder of Howard Efland, a gay man who was beaten to death in his hotel room by police officers in Los Angeles in March 1970. Efland was so scared that he had checked into the hotel under an alias, just because he was gay. On the 24th of June 1973, an arson burned a gay hangout in New Orleans, killing 32 innocent people. And, in June 21 1977, Robert Hillsborough was stabbed to death in San Francisco, the very city where Harvey Milk based his campaigns, by a man who shouted the derogatory remark "faggot", an offensive word commonly used against homosexuals both back then and still in current society. Social inequality was abundant on every street corner: homosexuals were often compared to animals, saying they were inhumane. It was a world in which being gay was considered to be a mental affliction, with institutions even being set up to try and "cure" the "homosexuality bug". Gays were treated as outsiders and were almost always made to be felt unwelcomed by the public. There were many slurs hurled towards gays, claiming that they were sinners against God, sent from hell to destroy the family unit. This bigotry, coming even from the parents and families of those who were gay, made many young people commit suicide. Publicity began to grow in regards to anti-gay movements, such as Anita Bryant's movements and Proposition 6, the Briggs initiative which threatened to remove all gay teachers from their jobs, even though many were already being fired for their sexuality. There was discrimination in terms of housing and business unions, and many other things that made life extremely difficult for homosexuals in this era.Human rights were being breached! Believe it or not, various articles on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were being ignored at this point in time in regards to homosexuality. Article 12 states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks". However in the 1970s, the privacies of those who were gay and their relationships were breached and information of their sexuality let out to the public to openly shame them. Additionally, many people who were gay, even if they were highly educated, found attacks upon their honour and reputation frequent, as they were regarded to be the lowest of society. And in the eyes of the law? As you guessed, these people were simply shamed and ignored, considered inhumane and nowhere near as equal as a heterosexual before the eyes of the law. The police failed to protect gays, not because they couldn't, just because they didn't want to. The individual I am studying, Harvey Milk, also came under many attacks upon his honour and reputation, both from fellow politicians such as Dan White and John Briggs, as well as daily death threats from anonymous members of the public if he dared to step onstage to speak another speech. Article 19 states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Homosexuals were not considered to have a proper opinion, as they were considered to be "mentally ill" and "animals". The individual studied, Harvey Milk, also struggled to gain popularity with his campaigns, opinions and points of view in regards to equal gay rights. Harvey Milk tried to impart information about the acceptance and equality of homosexuals to many homophobes, but he was still constantly shot down for doing so. Some newspapers and mediums of media refused to publish anything in relation to the emerging gay rights scene. Article 21 Part 1 states: "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives." At the time, there were no homosexuals as a part of the US government system. Of course, the only way there will be progress in favour for gay rights is by electing someone gay into parliament, someone who understands and realises what the community is going through, thus empathising with their struggles. However, this was not the case. Thus, Harvey Milk tried to change this by becoming involved in the government, attempting to represent the gays in the community. However he was constantly shot down for doing so, being rejected by the overall community on several occasions; he was told that he should not be allowed to take part in the way his state was governed. Article 1 states: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." Homosexuals were not considered equal, and were in fact treated extremely unequally with different rights to heterosexuals before Harvey Milk intervened. Heterosexual people certainly did not act "in a spirit of brotherhood" towards homosexuals, rather they were constantly discriminated against by the rest of the community. The first part of Article 9 mentions: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest", but many confirmed and suspected homosexuals were arrested and thrown in jail, simply at random for possessing homosexual qualities. So, as you can see, many human rights were being breached at this time. It was certainly time for someone to intervene.Individual: Harvey Bernard Milk was born on the 22nd of May, 1930 in Woodmere, New York in the United States of America. He grew up in the New York area and graduated from Bay Shore High School in 1947, majoring in mathematics. He served in the US Navy during the Korean war, but was discharged in 1955. Harvey Milk knew that he was gay ever since he was 14, but he wasn't too open about about it originally. He encountered a lot of abuse and homophobia hurled his way in his later years, but he also gained a multitude of respect, mainly from homosexuals, but also from some heterosexuals. Milk became involved in the theatre and arts scene, taking part in many plays. He also took on jobs as a merchant and a businessman, travelling to and from to live in various states, meeting several of his partners, including Scott Smith in New York. After founding a relationship, they decided to settle down in the Castro district of San Francisco, California, where they set up a shop: Castro Camera. Their business eventually became a safe place for homosexuals to convene and become involved in the gay rights political movement. After the Eureka Valley Merchants Association attempted to prevent Milk and Smith from receiving a business license for their camera shop. Milk and a few other gay business owners founded the Castro Village Association, with Milk as the president. He became fed up with the constant persecution and exclusion of gays from society and decided to take a stand, by attempting to take involvement in government. In 1973, Harvey Milk campaigned for the first time, for the role of City Supervisor for District 5. He encountered a lot of disapproval from a lot of the general public especially in regards to his gay rights activism, thus his campaign failed. But Milk was not going to give up so easily. He cut his long hair and vowed to be more professional. He ran again for the supervisor role in 1975, albeit without success again, but he began to gain more support, respect and votes. He got assistance from friends such as Cleve Jones and, in the early days, Scott Smith, who later decided to break up with Harvey due to his ongoing involvement in the political scene, which was putting both of their safeties at risk. Milk made a difference, challenging several politicians to public debates. His views gained popularity and turned many heads; people were finally waking up to all of the discrimination against homosexuals. He tried again in 1976, but fell short once more, but this time he had more votes than ever before. More and more rallies and marches were conducted, promoting gay rights. Milk's speeches brought hope and awareness to many Americans. He persisted and then finally on November 8 1977, he became the first openly gay man elected into public office, winning by a 30% landslide against other candidates. He was sworn is as City Supervisor for District 5, which made international news and gave hope to so many homosexuals around America and the entire world. Since the race for the California State Assembly, Milk had been receiving increasingly violent death threats, becoming quite concerned with the risk of being subject to assassination. So, he decided to record his thoughts and wishes for the future. He said: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door". [This quote shall be discussed in detail at the bottom of the page.] He achieved his aims by creating change through campaigns that not only supported gays but also the elderly and minorities. He fought against Anita Bryant's bigotry and challenged John Briggs' Proposition 6 which wanted to fire homosexual teachers from their jobs, with ultimate success, unbelievably defeating the initiative in a 2:1 margin. The Gay Freedom Parade of 1978 down Castro street became a huge movement, giving many homosexuals the courage to stand up for their rights to be treated as equal. This parade saw the emergence of the original, now well known, "Rainbow Flag", which promotes gay freedom. Progress was quickly made in the first few weeks of his involvement in the public office: the San Francisco Gay Rights Ordinance of 1978 was proposed, stating that gay people should have the same rights as any other person, preventing further discrimination. Miraculously, it was passed, receiving only one objection on the entire panel of supervisors! However, trouble was brewing... The one person who had objected to the S.F. Gay Rights Ordinance, fellow city supervisor Dan White, grew angry. Milk had intended to cooperate with White on several policies, however Milk deemed some of White's proposals to be strongly against both homosexuality and against the will of the general public. Eventually, Dan White decided to step down from his position as city supervisor, indulging in a supposedly unhealthy diet. Milk was ecstatic to say the least, now that one of the most homophobic supervisors was gone. But White quickly regretted his decisions. He asked the Mayor, at the time George Moscone, for his position back, but he refused. Thus, loaded with a gun, Dan White crept into the office through a basement window to avoid metal detectors and suspicion, then proceeded to shoot Mayor Moscone. Soon after, he returned to his former office loaded with particularly lethal bullets, and approached Harvey Milk, locking him in a room after asking to speak with him. On the 27th of November, 1978 Milk was shot to death and murdered, shot five times, including twice in the head at short range. Milk was only 48 years old, serving only in office for about 10 months. This incredibly unfortunate event devastated the gay community across America. There was a candlelight vigil in Milk's honour. Dan White turned himself in, but his prison-time sentence was cut short, after he claimed that he was not in a right state of mind due to the incredibly sugary and unhealthy diet he had. This was labelled as the "Twinkie defence" after the popular American junk food "Twinkies". This ridiculous excuse was ultimately believed! He was unjustly given the lightest possible charge for murder, "manslaughter". It was because of this that the White Night Riots occurred, as an outcry of incredibly sad people took a stand and fought back for their rights once and for all, in memory of Harvey Milk whose life was taken from him so soon. So much progress was made, but he was killed. Proof that Milk had made a change? In the White Night Riots, not a single homosexual was arrested. Milk's perseverence and dedication to change even in the short few months he was elected into office had made so much of a difference, whose morals and ideals resonated strongly within the American people. He became a role model for many gays and contributed so much to our society: We can be sure to say that if it weren't for Harvey Milk, we wouldn't be as accepting as a society today. He provoked an incredible amount of change, and now in America, homosexuals have complete equal rights, including the right to marry. Unfortunately in Australia, we still have not taken the initiative to follow in the footsteps of America and Milk's legacy, and many other countries still consider being gay to be illegal, with beheadings occuring in undeveloped countries for homosexuality, as well as homophobic slurs still continuing to be present in modern society. But hopefully one day, everyone worldwide will be able to look up to the legacy of Harvey Milk, still inspiring young gays to continue to stand up for their rights even than 40 years later, bringing yet another change and hopefully worldwide equal rights one day.Quotes: Harvey Milk truly emphasised the key message of giving people hope, and that everyone should be respected equally, treated as equal, with equal rights for all. He also placed a strong emphasis on encouraging gays to "come out of their closets" in order to take a stand and bring encouragement to the movement."If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." This quote is highly significant, considering the fact that he was indeed assassinated. This quote showed his defiance and willingness to stand up and never give up. Milk kept fighting for justice despite all of the death threats that were hurled his way. The statement remained true, as in the event of his death, hundreds of gays came out to society and took action in standing up for their rights, continuing Milk's legacy."Hope will never be silent." This quote demonstrates Milk's belief that hope, as the quote states, will never be silent. He believed that giving people the hope for a more accepting future for the younger homosexuals and overall community was crucial in getting the word out about how being gay is not a sin. In order the get something noticed and give people hope, you can't stay quiet and just accept the discrimination which comes your way, but rather stand up and fight, and continuing to bring attention to the matter."It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political ideal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression."This quote emphasises the way in which progress is carried out and is crucial to understand. It tells us that giving people rights, respecting others, giving freedom and removing repression is not forced upon by money or government or material ideas, but rather one can infer that it takes the activeness of a community and kindness, determination and the willingness to contribute to progress to help change the world; simple equalities do not need complex and irrational solutions to solve them, but rather the active care from the human heart."Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up, and start to fight."This quote displays the importance of each individual's decision to come out to the community. It encourages the homosexual reader to spread the word about their sexuality in a positive way, shedding light on the problems faced by gay society and taking a stand against discrimination to "start to fight". This inspirational quote truly significant as it was catchy and encouraged the individual to make a change, take a stand and become a part of the movement to stand up for their rights.So to conclude, yes I may have gone way over the 1000 word limit for this assignment, but truly 1000 words cannot contain the greatness that was Harvey Milk. His outstanding contributions to society certainly gave, and still do give, people hope to stand up for their rights. Homosexuality is not a sin, and because of Harvey Milk's encouragement to the gay youths to stand up and fight for our rights, the modern society of today as a result is incredibly accepting of various sexualities. Harvey Milk truly did give hope, and as the wise man himself once said: "Hope will never be silent."This Civil Rights assignment was made by Amber Condell 10D for Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School. Completed at 23:42 10.9.2015, started from scratch. Hope you enjoyed it, this project was really fun to make.Short bibliography:Videos used: YouTube, (2015). Harvey Milk Speech Hope. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFB7-zkrqZ0 [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].YouTube, (2015). Milk 1978 Prop 6 ( the Briggs Initiative ).wmv. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDQCDp6cEX0 [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Other known links (sorry, I missed out on a lot of links, I got a bit carried away in my research. Here are the main ones)Burns, K. (2005). Gay rights activists. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books.Google.com.au, (2015). Google Images. [online] Available at: https://www.google.com.au/imghp?hl=en&tab=wi&ei=qHvxVeWwFqPCmAWMnZhg&ved=0CBMQqi4oAQ [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Law2.umkc.edu, (2015). The Dan White (Harvey Milk Murder) Trial: A Chronology. [online] Available at: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/milk/milkchrono.html [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Milk. (2008). [film] United States: Gus Van Sant, Axon Films.Smith, J. (2003). The gay rights movement. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press.Un.org, (2015). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [online] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a19 [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Wikipedia, (2015). Harvey Milk. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Milk [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Wikipedia, (2015). History of violence against LGBT people in the United States. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_violence_against_LGBT_people_in_the_United_States#1970.E2.80.931979 [Accessed 15 Sep. 2015].Wikipedia, (2015). Scott Smith (activist). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Smith_(activist) [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Wikipedia, (2015). 1978 in LGBT rights. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978_in_LGBT_rights [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].Special thanks to Mrs Hunt and the library crew for helping me reserve those two books, and Mr Bardsley of course for the assignment, giving me an opportunity to learn more about such an interesting topic. Thanks! :)

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Harvey Milk



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