Two Men and a Myth

Former Advocate publisher David B. Goodstein is portrayed as one of Harvey Milk’s political nemeses in Gus Van Sant’s new movie. Oftentimes imperious, Goodstein would seem perfectly cast in that role. But only in the movies does every white hat have a black counterpart.

BY Mark Thompson

October 22 2008 12:00 AM ET

San Francisco was too small a town for both of them. (This is the West, after all.) Often called a fishing village with an opera house, San Francisco is seven miles square -- a tiny municipality with a lot of big egos. Both Harvey and David stepped onto a stage already filled with seasoned players. The city’s gay community was well entrenched by the ’70s, ruled by the Tavern Guild (a coalition of bar owners) and groups like the Pride Foundation, which ran a center for social services and the arts at 330 Grove St. There were plenty of toes to step on. Whether in sneakers or wing tips, both men were seen as interlopers.

But where Harvey had oodles of charisma, David just had buckets of cash. The gay kids on the streets who wanted a more open and honest society -- gay and otherwise -- felt safer with the former. Harvey was our hero, a working-class star who became a martyr and then a myth. There is no way David could compete with that. An investment banker (in nature and practice), David saw progress in the gay movement best served by steady and sure gains. For Harvey, politics was theater -- the splashier the show the better. Yet I saw David’s opposition to Harvey not as a Machiavellian maneuver but as something based more on personal style than substance.

Both men had the same lofty goal: to help gay people everywhere find decent lives once they came out of the closet. Had Harvey lived, he would have undoubtedly worked toward that end by becoming the city’s first gay mayor and then a state senator. David demonstrated his conviction (until his death from cancer in 1985) through the Advocate Experience, a successful gay self-empowerment program he founded in 1978, the year Harvey was shot.

Tags: film

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