This year, the United States Postal Service released a long-awaited and overdue postage stamp in honor of a pioneering legislator and advocate not only for the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) people, but for all people, especially those who had been traditionally locked out of the legislative power structure that often attempted to control their lives. The stamp bears the likeness of Harvey Bernard Milk, the first openly gay person elected to the San Francisco City Board of Supervisors in 1977, who worked for and garnered support from members of a wide coalition of groups and communities.
Once in office, he was responsible for shepherding a comprehensive ordinance through the Board of Supervisors for LGBT rights, and worked successfully to defeat the draconian Proposition 6 on the November 7, 1978 California ballot sponsored by John Briggs, a conservative state legislator from Orange County. If said Proposition were to pass, it would have mandated the firing of all LGBT public school teachers as well as anyone who supported LGBT rights in the schools. Briggs alleged that gay teachers desired to abuse, molest, and “recruit” youth.
Just three weeks later, after serving only eleven months in office, Harvey Milk and his friend and political ally, George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco, were both brutally murdered by Dan White, another Supervisor who recently quit the Board, but changed his mind and demanded to be reinstated.
Controversy surrounding Harvey during his time in electoral politics did not end with his assassination. Following the announcement by the U.S. Postal Service, the American Family Association (AFA) initiated a two-pronged boycott of the stamp.
“1. Refuse to accept the Harvey Milk stamp if offered by your local post office. Instead, ask for a stamp of the United States flag.2. Refuse to accept mail at your home or business if it is postmarked with the Harvey Milk stamp. Simply write ‘Return to Sender’ on the envelope and tell your postman you won’t accept it.”
“…is to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture, and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission,” and to “…restrain evil by exposing the works of darkness” by “championing Christian activism.”
AFA justifies its action:
“The Harvey Milk stamp was a result of seven years of lobbying by a self-described drag queen (a biologic [California] man with implanted breasts) and former transsexual prostituteNicole Murray Ramirez of San Diego.Honoring predator Harvey Milk on a U.S. postage stamp is disturbing to say the least. Harvey Milk was a very disreputable man and used his charm and power to prey on young boys with emotional problems and drug addiction. He is the last person we should be featuring on a stamp.”
In actuality, no amount of cissupremist ranting by the AFA will ever diminish Nicole Murray Ramirez’ integrity and groundbreaking lobbying efforts for the establishment of a postage stamp and California state holiday to honor civil right pioneer, Cesar Chavez.
A crucial point in the psychology of stereotyping and ‘scapegoating’ is the representation of minoritized groups as, in historian John Boswell’s words, “animals bent on the destruction of the children of the majority,” and dominant groups have long accused LGBT people of acting as dangerous predators of young people.
Former beauty queen and Florida Orange Juice Commission spokesperson, Anita Bryant, for example, spearheaded her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign, which succeeded in overturning a gay-rights ordinance in Dade Country, Florida in 1977. The ordinance was finally reinstated in 1998. According to Bryant, “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.”
These stereotypes have been validated institutionally. The 1992 Republican Party platform openly endorsed this oppression, stating that “[The Republican Party] opposes any legislation or law which legally recognizes same-sex marriages and allows such couples to adopt children or provide foster care.” In fact, some states still explicitly ban LGBT people from adopting or serving as foster parents.
In recent years, the fear of alleged pedophilia has been used to justify the ban on gay and bisexual boy scouts, and today and to continue the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay and bisexual scoutmasters as argued by Rob Schwarzwalder, 2013, Vice President of the conservative Washington, DC-based public policy and lobbying organization, Family Research Council (FRC): “The reality is, homosexuals have entered the Scouts in the past for predatory purposes.”
Tony Perkins, FRC President, in a 2011 fundraising letter for the organization addressing the LGBT communities’ so-called public promotion of homosexuality to youth, wrote: “The videos are titled ‘It Gets Better.’ They are aimed at persuading kids that although they’ll face struggles and perhaps bullying for ‘coming out’ as homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion), life will get better. …It’s disgusting. And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”
And last June, the Russian Parliament passed and President Vladimir Putin signed its “anti-homosexual propaganda” law specifically targeting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors,” including public discussions, events that “promote” LGBT rights, such as Pride Marches, and public displays of affection by same-sex couples that children might see or hear.
But the good news is that because of brave, courageous, and forward thinking pioneers like Harvey, no amount of intimidation will ever lock us away again. Lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, asexuals, trans* and intersex people, and our loving and supportive heterosexual and cisgender allies are coming out in greater numbers than ever before. As marginalized people, we are pushing the boundaries unwilling any longer to accept the repressive status quo. In coalition with other disenfranchised groups and allies, we are refusing to buckle under and to assimilate into a corrupt and corrupting system that forces people to relinquish their integrity and their humanity.
Harvey recorded a will that was to be played in the event of his assassination. In it he stated that he never considered himself simply as a candidate for public office, but rather, always considered himself as part of a liberation movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* people, and a liberation movement for all people.
Each time Harvey spoke in front of a crowd, he urged people to come out everywhere and often: “Tell your immediate family,” he would say. “Tell friends, neighbors, people in the stores you shop in, cab drivers, everyone.” And he urged heterosexual and cisgender people to be our allies, to interrupt derogatory remarks and jokes, to support us and offer aid when needed. If we all did this, he said, we could change the world.
I never met Harvey Milk, but I feel that I knew him on a deep personal level. His murder hit me like the death of an old trusted friend. His loss to me remains palpable.
In his relatively brief time with us, Harvey Milk left an indelible mark and invaluable gift by changing lives. He has earned the lasting, enthusiastic, and unqualified esteem of the countless people he touched, and we deeply and sorely miss him. During his time here, he did not simply walk, but in fact, he paved a path of justice and decency.
Though his killer may have destroyed his body, and his detractors then and now may have attempted to slander his reputation and malign and vilify his work, they will never succeed in extinguishing his legacy, destroying his spirit, or in terminating the heart of a community and a movement for social justice; for Harvey’s life-force continues, inspiring a new generation, a nation, and a world.
For us all, I do believe that love will conquer the hatred. Harvey, thank you for the riches you left us. We will continue the struggle in your name to make the world a safer and more supportive environment for all its people.
Harvey, we will proudly affix your stamps to our parcels and our letters, and we will scatter your image and your sense of fairness throughout the world. May you forever rest in peace.