This month, the USPS will start offering Harvey Milk postage stamps. Harvey Milk became a national gay rights hero in 1977 when he was elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk’s belief that the U.S. Government should represent all areas of American society encouraged and inspired the gay community at a time when discrimination and homophobia was rife. Milk was instrumental in educating the public on the dangers and absurdity of Proposition 6, which would have made firing gay teachers mandatory in the state of California.
Milk was a highly respected civil rights advocate and loved human being. Sadly however, just eleven short months after serving the people of his district, Harvey was murdered (shot point blank in the head) by Dan White – an anti-gay colleague. Mr. White was eventually convicted of voluntary manslaughter; it was an appalling legal injustice.
What I find ironic is that although some deem our lives worthless, history has shown that we are some of the strongest, most resilient, and courageous people. For centuries we have been imprisoned, beaten, bullied, mocked and murdered. Gay people have been used as science experiments, and regularly regarded as less than human. According to FBI statistics, every four minutes in our nation a crime is reported from a gay person being harassed, bashed, bullied, etc. These reports often include death threats – and these are just the reports on record. Incalculable acts of gay bashing are never reported due to shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and death threats if they are reported. Gay people cannot, to this day, freely walk in their pride parades or get married without hearing insults, slander, and verbal attacks from scores of deluded people with bullhorns. Every day across the U.S., gay couples and their homes are robbed, egged, vandalized, and burned by hate-motivated arsonists. If you open a newspaper or do a quick online search, you will find gays are daily brutally beaten, burned, mobbed, assaulted, bashed, intimidated, even killed as acceptable “punishment” simply for the way they are born. Not too long ago, we suffered excessive and demeaning bar raids, including completely unnecessary and extreme brutality from police officers. We agonized silently, having no legal recourse or protection. As an invisible minority we had no voice and few allies.
Our community encounters countless double standards. I see many young straight couples passionately making-out in shopping malls but if a gay couple holds hands they’re “flaunting their lifestyle.” When anti-gay groups call for nationwide boycotts, it is deemed a righteous use of the free market in order to preserve morality, marriage, family, and the American way. But when the gay community exercises their right to boycott, it is then homofascist intimidation, intolerance, bullying, a stifling of religious liberty, and an attempt to deny others the freedom of speech. Sadly, the examples are many.
Despite these constant travesties to our community, we continue to boldly live in love, forgiveness, and hope. We are a community often fired from our jobs for who we are, yet the first ones to lend an ear to others in need. We are a community disowned by our families, yet first to give a helping hand to others lost. We are a people continually knocked down physically, spiritually, and mentally, but stand tall and proud while dusting ourselves off. Yes, we are that community. You can throw us to the wolves, but rest assured we’ll return leading the pack.
I will share my personal story at another time but in short, I lived on my own at the young age of fourteen, forcing me to leave school and work three low-paying dead end jobs to pay rent and bills. My future was looking miserable at best. I was too young to drive and too poor for public transportation. My seven day work weeks were long and grueling. Life was not easy and I never knew what the next day held, or if my tired legs could endure another day. I guess you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have!
In time I realized that although I had little say about my start, I had all the say about my finish. I went on to serve eight honorable years in the United States Military (four years in the Army and another four in the Air force). I returned to school, eventually graduating with a master’s degree in education (high honors). I moved to NYC and worked on various television and movie sets. I wrote and recorded a CD and performed at many venues, wrote and illustrated a now published children’s book “I Am Loved Right Where I Am” http://www.jasonj.biz/author.php I joined a pop group and toured the nation – one such performance was for the wedding of Shania Twain’s manager. Pictures of the wedding, and our group, were featured in a nation-wide publication. I am happily married for almost twelve years with one child and one on the way. Most significantly, I remain steadfast in my relationship to my heavenly Father, and my daily renewal to follow His examples.
I share some of my life highlights not in any way to boast, or for a pat on the back. I share them simply as an example of how our community repeatedly turns our tests into testaments, and our messes into messages. Despite endeavors and accomplishments, I am habitually surrounded by naysayers. Our community and all our successes are persistently dismissed, debased, and disregarded. How cruel and unfair when others throw you out in the cold and then get upset when you learn how to get warm on your own.
If you are gay, or an ally, know that you are a part of magnificent and exceptional community. I always say gay people are like winning the lottery; one never knows when a winning ticket will emerge from the family. I hope your next post office trip includes a Harvey Milk stamp or two as your support speaks volumes and marks a better tomorrow. When the gay community is strengthened, every community is strengthened!
The great Harvey Milk is unfortunately gone, yet his heroism, fearlessness, and fortitude live on. Decades after his death, Milk is still opening hearts and minds and encouraging all to live authentically. Harvey Milk’s passion for equal rights put his own life in danger, and he knew it. While writing this post, John 15:13 came to mind, “No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.” There are many scholarly interpretations of this superb verse; however my favorite is from Harvey Milk himself, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door!”