“Harvey Milk is probably the most familiar name in the history of the gay rights movement. He was the first out gay politician to win a major seat through election in the United States. This book tells his stories through a series of chronological articles based on interviews, letters, transcripts of radio and television programs, and photographs. In a sense, this is the closest thing we have to something written in his own words.
The book primarily focuses on his later years, since it would not be until he became involved politically that the media took great enough interest in him to do interviews. At the same time, many of the pieces provide a look back on earlier phases of his life, which included time as a teach, an investor, and involvement with theatrical works. The result is a very human look at the person who was Harvey Milk. It was also interesting to see the evolution of his political philosophy over the course of a few years.
While not surprising considering the focus of the media at the time, there really is little coverage of his personal life. The reader gets little sense of the people who mattered most to Milk ... who was his family or his "family?" Who were the people he loved? Who gave him support as he was confronted with so many personal challenges?
A lot of the political coverage is very much tied to the various minor issues of San Francisco at the time. This includes everything from rent controls to redevelopment. Sadly, it seems that gay rights is not the only issue that is common to today. The need for affordable housing and jobs was often front and center in the issues Milk was looking at.
Taking on John Briggs' proposition to make it illegal for openly gay and lesbian people to be teachers is probably the most important thing that Milk was able to do for the movement. Some would say that it was his martyrdom, but it seems like his assassination (along with San Francisco Mayor Moscone) seems tied more to the sad madness of another politician who had fallen on hard economic/political times and a need to blame his victims for them rather than due to the fact that Milk was gay or worked for gay rights.
During one of the final interviews he had ever given, Milk provided the following quote, which speaks so much about the gay rights movement of his time as well as the fight for marriage equality today:
"Supporting gay rights does not mean supporting homosexuality, just as supporting black civil rights does not mean you have to like or love black people. But you respect their right under our democratic system and under the Constitution to have equality. You don't even have to accept the idea of homosexuality; what you are accepting is the right of all people t exist. You are just reaffirming what the Constitution says, and what is chiseled into the Statue of Liberty."
While I am less sure that most people would be willing to slug through the various specifics of San Francisco politics of the time, I really thought this was a really good read. I know that I learned so much about Harvey Milk. He was an idol, a hero, but most of all, he was human, just like the rest of us.”