Though we didn’t get to pick the issue that will forever define a movement, the rapidly escalated fight for marriage equality has certainly advanced the notion that gay people are citizens deserving of the same rights as heterosexual Americans.
And yet, the fight for marriage is just the tip of the iceberg. If anything, the message of Harvey’s life informs us that we cannot focus on just one issue when so much more is at stake.
If Harvey were here in Texas today — oh he would have had a field day! Here we are, three-and-a-half decades after the Briggs Initiative and Anita Bryant, yet in many ways, Texas looks more like 1978 than it does 2015.
I think back on the words of Anita Bryant spoken through her smarmy smile: “I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.” Then I hear the words of state Sen. Donna Campbell from 2013: “Yesterday’s vote by the San Antonio City Council was an assault on the liberty of individuals to think freely and form their own opinion regarding certain lifestyle choices.”
I look back on the remarkable 1978 victory against California’s Proposition 6, which would have banned employment of gay people and their supporters in public schools, and I hear the words of state Sen. John Briggs, in a debate with Harvey Milk and Sally Gearhart: “…we cannot prevent child molestation, so let’s cut our odds down and take out the homosexual group and keep in the heterosexual group.”
Then think about more than 60 elected lawmakers — including our future lieutenant governor and attorney general — who in 2014 signed an amicus brief rejecting marriage equality by comparing it to polygamy, incest and pedophilia.
I see how the fear-mongering of people like Bryant caused discriminatory ordinances to pop up all over the country. Now that marriage equality is so prevalent across the country, the same thing is happening all over again.
Yes, Harvey would have a lot to say about other things that are happening these days.
He would escalate his stand against the use of religion to harm people, and challenge the ugly and immoral use of religion to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT people. He would call out the hypocrisy of so-called religious liberty bills and probably say something similar to what he said in the 1970s: “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”
He would have fought harder than we in the gay community are when the state moved to move $3 million from HIV prevention programs to abstinence-only education.
While there is not a lot written about Harvey and transgender people, I know how thrilled he would be to see the growing acceptance of transgender people and how transgender women and men are rising up themselves to lead and create change.
But I know he would not stop there.
Harvey would fight hard against the continued refusal to provide protections for LGBT people and would vigorously decry legislation that harms transgender people or that fails to protect children or heinous bills that would create a bounty on transgender students: “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
And because I understand that much of Harvey’s success in advancing gay rights was working in coalition to advance the rights of others, I know that he would be about much more than LGBT rights.
When the Texas government was shutting down abortion clinics and in an attempt to control women’s bodies, I believe Harvey would be right out there with women and friends of women demonstrating against these assaults on womens’ rights. When the annual May 1 workers’ rights march shifted focus to immigrant rights and then to police brutality, I believe Harvey would be right there in solidarity, advocating for fair treatment, effective legislation, and a swift end to lethal violence, particularly against people of color.
He would be on the front lines of non-violent #BlackLivesMatter protests and rallies, recognizing that issues of race are issues of gay and transgender people as well. He would come back to the gay community with the message that all lives can’t matter until black and brown lives matter.
And I know without a shadow of doubt that he would use that bullhorn to goad us out of complacency and apathy. He would still say he was here to recruit us and encourage us into action.
And that’s what I take away from his life: not either/or but both/and.
Times have changed and yet they haven’t changed at all.
Where is our passion and our fervor? Where is our collective talk of hope and our cries against brutality and injustice toward others?
Each of us must come out. Not just come out gay but come out for each other, in every space. For the man who just wants something to eat.
To the transgender youth crying out for help and acceptance. To the defense of people marginalized by the brutality of people in power. For the aging among us. For those who don’t look like us. Just like Harvey and others did in the 70s and 80s, we must form coalition one with another.
A wise friend of mine planted an idea in my head that we need to stop walking in parades and start marching. She is absolutely right.
Harvey saw that the struggle for equality for gay people was the struggle for equality for all people. And that has not changed, for when you stand with me, straight ally, it gives me hope. And when I stand with you, my transgender sister of color, it gives you hope. And we believe hope does not disappoint. And if it does, then our work is not finished.
I believe we can and should be fierce advocates with our voices, our bodies, and our wallets. Because doing so makes everything else in our lives fuller and richer.
Because, “without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.
That’s what Harvey would do.
Todd Whitley is a local activist and executive director of Hope for Peace and Justice. Read his blog at tdub68.wordpress.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2015.