2nd Official Harvey Milk Day Statement, May 22, 2011 by Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, and Founder and President of the Harvey Milk Foundation
Today my uncle would have been 81 years old. However he gave us his life 32 years ago, knowing that the first of any civil rights movement, who so clearly and loudly proclaim their right to equality, most often meets a violent and sudden end. I am frequently asked if I am deeply saddened that my uncle Harvey did not get to see all those elected officials who would come to stand on his shoulders or all the places where the light of equality burns brighter than the darkness of antiquated prejudice, and I have long replied, he did see those open and proud candidates running for office and winning and he did see those cities and states and nations that would etch equality into both their laws and their societal values, for he could not have given his life without seeing and visualizing that dream, for he would leave us with a compass based on hope, hope born of bullets, not smashing into his brain, but smashing our masks and our fear of authenticity.
81 years ago Harvey came into this world with all the promise and potential that my grandparents Minnie and Bill could have imagined, and he also came into a world that soon would be rocked by a global war driven at its very core by fear, division, and separation. My uncle was profoundly affected by the capacity of communities and nations to turn on each other when the narrative of lies and the myths of prejudice were fed around the globe during WWII. He also was able to see at a young age, visible through his college writing, that we could learn through collaboration, understanding and inclusiveness that we are not weakened by our differences, in fact that our potential is only reached when the full diversity of all those that make up our communities are celebrated. And today it is this celebration of our diversity that Harvey dreamed, the celebration of all of us, not in-spite of our differences, but because of our differences. Today is the celebration not of a people or community or nation being better then another, but a celebration of the knowledge that we are so much less when we do not embrace, without qualification, all members of our unique and varied humanity.
My uncle’s legacy has many monuments, all those openly LGBT elected officials, all those who live an authentic and open life, all those strong allies, like Leader Nancy Pelosi, that fight to keep us embraced, and the books and the plays, and the operas, and the movies–both the academy award winning 1984 Documentary, “The Times of Harvey Milk and 2008’s MILK have given new generations the central story of Harvey, of his dream, of his willingness to give his life for that dream, and by telling his story, young people just starting out in life, those of us in the middle of life, and even the elders of our communities were all given a strong reminder of hope, the hope to fulfill our potential of equality. President Obama said it best, “Harvey gave us hope, All of us, Hope unashamed, Hope unafraid” when he gave me Harvey’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. Even more monumental has been the number of openly LGBT Presidential appointments made in these past two years and the unprecedented level of inclusiveness this White House has shown, not just to Americans but the global LGBT community. My uncle was very much with us as we watched the President and then Speaker Pelosi sign the Matthew Shepard Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or when the President’s Department of Justice declared that laws that discriminate against LGBT Americans must be reviewed with a higher level of scrutiny in Federal courts to provide greater protection against discrimination. These are the tangible monuments to Harvey’s legacy that have the impact to effect change, real societal change.
Today California is joined with fair minded communities across the country and out onto the global stage in celebrating not only the birthday of my uncle but also his dream, a dream that remains alive in so many of us. The Harvey Milk Foundation set out this year to grow the recognition of Harvey’s story and the hope it inspires and to encourage a national and global celebration of that hope. With a group of some 25 dedicated volunteers from around the country, mostly young, mostly filled with the belief in the possible. With no paid staff the Foundation set out to reach around the globe in the belief that Harvey Milk Day can give hope to everyone, everyone who has ever felt different, or has felt that they did not belong, or were not welcome as who they really are. It is a day of recognition and appreciation of our own authenticity and that of others, a day to collaborate and reach out to those who still struggle with either self acceptance or societal acceptance. A day to put hate and separation in their place, a place of learning of wrongs righted and reminders not to repeat them, a day to create the dream and vision of what is possible, even in the all too many places around the world where it is still so very hard to visualize that dream, as it was in the time is the US when my uncle spoke out over 35 years ago. I humbly thank all of us who work collaboratively in dreaming what my uncle dreamed, for seeing, visualizing and striving to reach that day of full equality, equality that is unqualified.