An Ode to Uncle Harvey

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” – Harvey Milk

                This quote has haunted me since I first read it last year during my first trip to the Bay Area.  Coincidentally, it was the day after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country.  Since then, I have meditated on his legacy and I have learned more about the man via articles, documentaries and his infamous biopic starring Sean Penn.  For those who are unaware, Harvey Milk was the first gay person to be elected to public office as a city supervisor in 1977.

                On November 27th, it will be 38 years since Harvey Milk’s assassination, along with the assassination of then-San Francisco mayor, George Moscone, by former city supervisor Dan White.  White had resigned from his city supervisor position to pursue private business enterprises that eventually failed.  When he asked for his resignation to be withdrawn, Mayor Moscone decided to appoint someone else to White’s position that represented the more cultural diverse and liberal direction in which the was moving.  Obviously disgruntled, White snuck into City Hall through the basement to avoid the metal detectors and murdered his two former colleagues.

What he did and who he became to the LGBT+ community is the equivalent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the African-American community.  He spearheaded strict laws and ordinances to protect and support not only the LGBT+ community but union workers, the elderly and other minorities within his jurisdiction.  The above quote is often seen as his rendition of Dr. King’s “I might not get to the mountaintop with you” quote.  Unfortunately, neither one of those man ever got to see the fruits of their tireless and seemingly fruitless labor and efforts.

                I think what touches me the most is the fact that Harvey Milk was not just thinking of his friends and neighbors, his generation or even his city.  He wanted to liberate the entire nation!  He was looking to create a future where it didn’t matter who you loved but how you loved.  He wanted his efforts to ripple through time like a stone thrown in a lake.  And if not the country or the world, at least San Francisco and the Castro could be a safe haven for those who were looking for a place where they could be their most authentic selves without the fear of societal and cultural scrutiny that is so prevalent in too many parts of the country and the world.

                Walking through the Castro is something of a spiritual experience for me.  Whenever I feel sad, depressed or raw about life, that neighborhood has a way of lifting my spirits for its unyielding sense of inclusion and celebration of what make an individual an individual.  Despite of the high influx of tourism that the Castro manifests, you can still see every walk of life in a single sitting at café, bar or restaurant.  Even the tourists come from every corner of the globe walk the legendary strip in awe and appreciation of the openness that the Castro is known for.  The genesis for its reputation is Harvey Milk and the colorful and vivid world he sought to create can be seen and felt in the streets he once roamed and the community for whom he stood up.

                Recently, I wrote a poem/song thinking about the quote at the beginning of this blog.  I’m amazed by it because he knew we would exist.  He didn’t know our names and he didn’t know our faces but he knew us and he wanted to uplift and support us.  In spite of the reality of the times, he dreamed of more and better for us.  So I dedicate this piece to the “Mayor of Castro Street” Harvey Milk, or as I like to call him, “Uncle Harvey”

April showers
Make May flowers bloom
As did you to make sense
Of the senseless and gloom
It’s not easy being so misunderstood
But if someone can understand, I know you could

You weren’t born here
But you made this place your home
And you gave each outcast
A safe space to roam
Liberation was the ultimate goal
To allow love to flow freely to another soul

Oh, how did you know I would be here?
Oh, how did you know I would need you?
Oh, how did you know this time would be near?
Oh, how did you know I would feel you?

Your love for life
Unmatched by many
Raw conviction
God knows you had plenty
You saw a need for change and you didn’t blink twice
You didn’t even look at the price

Never was a stranger
Yet you seemed unphased
By the legitimate danger
You’re one of the bravest men to ever walk this earth
How could anyone calculate such worth?

Oh, how did you know I would be here?
Oh, how did you know I would need you?
Oh, how did you know this time would be near?
Oh, how did you know I would feel you?

Out of all of my fallen heroes, Harvey Milk has to be in the top five for his heart and his courage to be seen and bear the bullet for the liberation and celebration of so many that would follow.  We may have a long way to go with laws being submitted that legally protect those who choose to discriminate against those who are different and hate crimes being committed with end result favoring the bigoted.  But we must NOT forget how far have come as a community and as a humanity.  It is imperative that we honor our progress and celebrate each victory while learning from every loss. And we must not forget the spirited people who led us.

Like Uncle Harvey.

photo source

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