Harvey Milk Day 2013: Where is the coalition of the us's?
I'm left to wonder what Harvey would say if he were here. I imagine he'd start by saying that this day isn't about him. For Harvey, it was always about the movement, never about ego.
He'd likely say this day is for the kids out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias of the world who are feeling hopeless, who still feel that what makes them different makes them "less than." He'd tell anyone who would listen that they must come out, stand up...and send that young person a much-needed message of hope.
But I'm afraid the next thing Harvey might ask is, "What has happened to the coalitions we started building?"
Because as proud as I am of the work so many brave people have done to come out and share their stories, I'm afraid we have neglected one of the most critical pieces of Harvey Milk's successful political philosophy.
Harvey Milk was not myopic when it came to his equality. If he had been, he never would have been elected. Harvey was a pure populist. He worked hard for all people who have been made to feel "less than," and all minorities who the system wasn't working for.
Early on he backed the unions in the Coors beer boycott in the 70s–forging an unexpected alliance between gays and union truck drivers. He went into the Chinese communities and made sure the ballots were written in Mandarin instead of English. He fought for seniors and the homeless.
It seems the message we too often miss from Milk's work is that all Americans have an interest in equality because soon we will all be minorities in some way or another–it just depends on how we slice the pie.
Separate, we are all vulnerable. Together, we are unbeatable.
Harvey called this his "coalition of the us's." He wanted equality for "not only gays, but the blacks, the Asians, the disabled, and the seniors." He understood the interconnectedness of our common struggles.
The idea was simple but brilliant. Harvey believed that people who are very different deserve equal protection. And he knew that if we were ever going to win that freedom and keep it, we had to stick together.
When I wrote the movie "MILK," I focused mostly on Harvey's call to send a message of hope to the young LGBT people who were suffering, likely because I had grown up feeling a lot like that isolated kid from Altoona, Pennsylvania.
But here's the thing: I grew up gay, but I also grew up Mormon. In Texas. I grew up with a single mother who walked with crutches because of polio. And we had no money; I was a free lunch kid. We were different in so many ways beyond just the gay thing...so why didn't I shine a brighter light on Harvey's "coalition of the us's?" It's one of my few regrets with the portrayal.
Because the bottom line is this: We in the LGBT movement have a long way to go when it comes to joining together with other groups who are seeking equal opportunity and equal protections. Too often, I witness a myopia that I fear may keep us from crossing the finish line of full equality and leave any gains we make feeling impermanent.
Never has this been clearer to me as these weeks leading up to the Supreme Court's ruling on full marriage equality. With a true coalition, every citizen–regardless of sexual orientation–would understand that this isn't simply a gay and lesbian fight, but a fight for justice and equality for anyone who has ever been singled out as second class.
When the Supreme Court does get it right, it should be clear that this is a victory for everyone who has ever felt different in some way, which increasingly means every single one of us. But if it continues to leave gay and lesbian families vulnerable, it makes all families vulnerable.
Now more than ever, we need organizations and individuals to do the hard work to rebuild, build out, and strengthen our coalitions in order to reach out and find commonality with unexpected new allies.
We need the "us's" to stand together publicly with our voices raised to remind the world that this nation is strong because of our differences, not despite them.
Because when that day comes that the U.S. Supreme Court rules for full equality for gays and lesbians, it won't send a message of hope solely to LGBT young people. It should be clear that the Court has sent a message of hope to EVERY young person who has ever felt "less than" for being different.