My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you
Nearly thirty-four years have passed since Harvey Milk last uttered those famous words. Today however, his legacy of hope is still recruiting young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to further the cause for equal rights for all. I know this because, three years ago, he recruited me.
To tell the truth, my evolution to activism was a long time coming but, just like when I came out of the closet, when I discovered my activist self I took the door off the hinges so as never to be forced to go back. This being my first post, it may be important to give some lead up.
I was born in NY, like Harvey Milk was, seventeen days before he was assassinated in 1978. I lived with my mom and biological father until they split when I was around six years old. By that time, I was the oldest of three (one sister and a brother who was the youngest). We lived, for a while, with my grandparents until my mom fell in love with the man who earned the title, “dad”. It was this change in our lives that truly began my journey down the path of understanding the principals of fairness, honesty, morality, and justice.
Even though we were in (what some describe as) a haven of equality in the 1990′s, the relationship between my mom and dad sparked a family feud that I had no real understanding of. I caught bits and pieces of arguments from phone conversations between family members which often lead to one of my parents slamming their phone down in anger. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that much of this turmoil had to do with the fact that there were still members of the family (on both sides) that believed that race is more important than love and there was no way that any relative of theirs was going to be involved in an interracial marriage without them having their say about it.
Of course, we could avoid these conversations most of the time due to distance. Dad worked three jobs and mom worked two so that we could live in a somewhat private area in the Catskill Mountains. As time went on I grew more aware of things that were going on around us. A memory that still clearly sticks in my mind is when I first realized how strangers perceive our family.
One summer, dad and I walked into a gas station to pay for gas. We walked up to the cash register and I suddenly noticed the odd way in which the cashier was looking at us. At first it was that curious puppy look as if he was trying to figure mystery out. He must of heard me say, “dad, can I have a pack of gum please” because that moment, his curious look turned into a look of disgust. I could easily tell that dad noticed this immediate change in the mood.
I kept my eyes trained on dad to see what he was going to do but, he just straightened up to stand tall, paid the cashier, grabbed my hand and then we walked out and to the car where his mood immediately changed. We didn’t talk about it but it was obvious that the experience bothered him as it did me. Looking back, that was my dad’s way of owning his equality.
I later learned that my dad was “like, old and stuff” and had lived through the 60′s so he had much experience in this type of thing. He made sure that we knew the recent history of our country. He talked about his involvement with some activism and he made sure that we understood the struggles for equality throughout our country’s history.
After I graduated high school, I joined the United States Army. I didn’t really know that I was gay when I joined and didn’t come to the realization until about a year after I joined. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in effect by that time. That doesn’t help much when your ex outs you to your unit but, time and space won’t allow me to get into too much detail about that. Perhaps in another post.
I was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX when I left the Army so I decided to move to the Austin area and here I’ve stayed. It wasn’t until 2009, nearly ten years after I’d been out of the military, that I started actually thinking about my experiences and the emotional anguish that I suffered under DADT. I began having nightmares (mostly exagerated versions of experiences while I was in) which would wake me up in the middle of the night.
For self therapy, I began a blog and just started writing down my experiences. I also opened a twitter account and started sharing my blog and tweeting with the universe. If it weren’t for all of that, I wouldn’t have ever known about GetEQUAL’s action at the White House fence to bring attention to the need for repeal of DADT. Those actions inspired me to read up more on non-violent civil disobedience.
Through all of this, I’d become a regular tweeter back and forth with Jay Morris in San Antonio who insisted that I attend Austin’s Harvey Milk Day Conference. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was the first one for Austin but, I couldn’t attend the conference. I promised that I would go to the march and rally that happened at the end of the conference.
That Sunday, I was excited but scared at the same time. I’d never done anything like this and didn’t know what to expect. As we marched to the Capitol building, I knew I had found my place in the world. That day, I became a part of a family of activists demanding full equality in all matters governed by civil law. A year later, we named that family, GetEQUAL TX.
The group that had put on the first Harvey Milk Day Conference decided not to put it on last year. So many of us received our activism baptism at the first one that we wanted to keep it going so, not having put together an event like this before, we dug our heels in and went for it.
This Tuesday, May 22nd marks Harvey Milk’s Birthday and Harvey Milk Day Conference 2012 will be held over Memorial Day Weekend. I’m looking forward to it as attendance is expected to double!
Maybe I will see you there.
there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.