30 Years Later, We Can Still Learn from Milk 

By Lane Hudson

Originally published on Advocate.com November 27 2008 12:00 AM ET

"My name is
Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you!"

That is how gay
rights icon Harvey Milk would start his speeches. The
refrain became more and more familiar and inspired a
new generation of activists in San Francisco and
throughout America to fight for equality for gays and
lesbians. Harvey broke barriers, won hearts and minds,
changed our movement and was assassinated 30 years ago
today. With his death, we lost the most
transformational leader our movement has ever seen.

Today is
Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for the lessons that we can learn
from Harvey Milk. Yesterday, a film went to wide release
that chronicles his life. It is an instant classic
that provides us an accurate accounting of the life of
the man so many of us draw inspiration from.

As I sat in the
movie theater, I was taken with the parallels that exist
with what Harvey was up against and the dynamics of our
movement today. We often hear that very little
progress has been made in the past thirty years. I
wonder how different things would be today if Harvey had not
been taken from us.

We have lost
sight of what Harvey sought to accomplish. Our movement has
become professionalized, funding mechanisms to ensure our
organizations operate day to day; so many more gays
and lesbians live openly today then ever before. He
understood how every one of our accomplishments resonated
further than lives of the individuals who made them. At one
point, he said that he wasn't a candidate, but it was
the movement that was the candidate.

Harvey heard from
young people around the country who had read about him
and been inspired to avoid suicide and instead become an
activist. There is a wonderful YouTube video that uses
Harvey's own words to address this and the importance of
electing gay people to office. Watching it will be
time well spent: 

In early
February, understanding that I needed to know about Harvey
Milk, I traveled to San Francisco to take part in the
filming of the movie that was released yesterday.
Before the filming of some of the march and protest
scenes began, all of the extras were treating to a viewing
of the documentary The Life and Times of Harvey
Milk
. It was my first exposure to Harvey and it
has changed me. I found a kindred soul and so should
you.

As an example of
how amazing Harvey is, I would point to Proposition 6 in
1978, also known as the Briggs Amendment. Senator Briggs
sought to fire every gay that worked as a teacher as
well as those who supported gays. It was the
culmination of anti-gay referendums in different cities
around the country.

Proposition 6
started 60% down in the polls. In a meeting with the
Democratic establishment, Harvey soundly rejected their
strategy of appealing to the better nature of straight
people. Instead, he set out on his own campaign of
bringing gay people and their lives to the voting
public. Ultimately, Harvey's effort resulted in the defeat
of Proposition 6 by a two to one margin.

You have to
wonder how Harvey would have demanded that the campaign
against Proposition 8 be run. In a time of reflection on
major losses for our movement and much activism and
talk about a new generation of leaders, I believe we
should look back to Harvey for both inspiration and
guidance.

He was not only a
man ahead of his time, but made time catch up with him.
We can both honor his memory and recapture his spirit by
doing the same thing. He hoped that if his life was
ended by a bullet in his head, that it would remove
discrimination from the minds of people everywhere. That
hasn't happened yet and we need to work to realize Harvey's
dream. We are better off because of him and owe him
that.

When we have
achieved what Harvey set out to do, then we can rest. Until
then, Harvey Milk is still is here to recruit you. What will
you do to honor him and his life?