I was never taught about Harvey Milk

This is not my victory, it’s yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight.” -Harvey Milk

By Jose Soto

The school system handed me an outdated history textbook with a serial number embedded on its spine. I folded a paper cover to fit the edited version of our nation’s story with aligned creases.

Saturated were the pages with historical figures and icons, names and dates, documents and legislations.

The concern was to include JFK, MLK, FDR, the Civil Rights Movement and the Proclamation of Emancipation, The New Deal and Nat Turner and many other monumental American affairs.

But no one ever taught me about Harvey Milk.

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Never was his name mentioned and never any references to the first openly-gay person to be elected into public office. Never any depiction of the 1960s counterculture of sexuality in San Francisco and the migration of gays to the Castro District.

Or his campaigns inclusive of not only homosexuals but minorities and women. Feminists. Latinos. The poor and unprivileged.  Immigrants. Senior citizens. The rogues, the strays, the rebellious, degenerates  and the incorrigibles as they must have referred to us back then.

Never a dialogue of his contribution to a coalition of equals, of progressives, of valiants and hopefuls. Of Milk’s candidacy based on much needed change.

What did the school system fear? Empowering a student with his own sexuality? Of encouraging self-expression instead of repression? Of ill-conduct in the little boys restroom? Of revamping a social movement whose core was sexual and social freedom? Of pacifying the Anita Bryants? Of eradicating sexual regulation in our schools and churches? Of a turning-point in our nation’s history where the gay population could have had it’s day and not undertake a social fight for the next thirty-some years?

If passed in 1978, Proposition 6 would have banned gays and lesbians from working in Californian public schools. It didn’t.

And yet I was never taught about Harvey Milk. Of the shift in San Francisco’s politics he conjured. Or how he helped pass the Gay Rights Ordinance of 1978 which protected homosexuals from being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Or the ridicule and xenophobia he endured. Or the discrimination and prejudice. Or the hate mail.

Or his assassination which took place in his own office. Or how he foresaw that the land of the free was not free enough to accept homosexuals as competent politicians and intellectuals, activists and prolific citizens.

Or how his assassin was only charged with voluntary manslaughter and only given a light sentence of seven years for silencing a voice of the people; my people.

Along with so many, I could have benefitted from learning about Harvey Milk. I could have avoided years of soul searching and questioning and found solace in knowing the fabric of our nation included someone like Milk. I could have found the courage and braveness to allow my sexuality to empower me instead of letting society opaque my inner-strength.

But I was never taught about Harvey Milk.

Harvey predicted his own assassination and taped a messaged which he instructed only be played if the event unfolded. In it, Harvey said “if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

And even though the LGBT community has and continues to endure many other bullets, hate crimes and discrimination, we can all find a source of inspiration in knowing that we have people like Harvey Milk to call our own. But we must continue to educate those who don’t know his story.

Because many don’t know it. Because to the few who control what goes into a history textbook, we are just a serial number embedded on a spine.

Many aren’t taught about Harvey Milk just like I wasn’t taught about Harvey Milk.

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