Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Harvey Milk and Civil Rights Today

Hands down my favorite 2008 movie is Milk, starring Sean Penn. His performance is riveting. But what has stayed with me for two weeks now is the civil rights' aspect. I write nonfiction books for young adults. And this story is for them, too. For all those gay teens who experience prejudice at school or teens who are put them down out of fear or ignorance. It is for all of us.
It’s been thirty years since Harvey Milk died fighting for the right to be treated like every other American. And yet in California this past November, Proposition Eight, the initiative against gay marriage, garnered more ink, more discussion than the presidential election. No matter what our moral feelings are about homosexuality, the United States has stated time and time again in our Constitution, in our laws and in our courts that Americans must not be discriminated against according to gender, race, religion or sexual preference. Yet all of the civil rights battles in our country have taken decades, even centuries to resolve. What are we so afraid of? As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.”
In January 2009, we don’t have that kind of time to fritter. We don’t have the seventy-eight years that women publicly battled for the vote or two hundred years for people of color to gain fair access to the ballot box. Our country has too many serious problems - war around the world, the economy, the environment, health insurance, better schools for our young people - to waste it fighting against a group of people who only want what all American citizens deserve - justice - to live and love in freedom. What are we so afraid? How much better for all Americans if all the time, effort and money spent fighting for the rights of gay people could be used instead to work for peace, better schools, and a cleaner environment.
I wish that every young person in this country could see and discuss the movie Milk with their parents. It won't turn them into a gay person if they aren’t one already. Who would choose that life style with all the discrimination and prejudice it holds?
Milk is such a hopeful movie, in spite of its ending. Harvey fought his heart out for what he believed in and his passion inspired thousands during his lifetime and millions more after his death. We honor him and al those who have fought for civil rights by making sure all Americans have them. My brother and sister-in-law in San Francisco were part of that the candlelight parade, real footage featured at the end of the movie. It made the movie even more special to me. But I didn’t need their connection to cause me to think about Harvey Milk’s legacy every day since I saw the movie. The 14th amendment promises equal protection under the law. It is time that gay Americans gained that promise. What are so afraid of?

1 comment:

jan myhre said...

Excellent review of a long-in-coming movie, Mary. I shall put this movie at the top of my "must see" list.