I never met Harvey Milk, yet he has always been a figure that looms large in my mind. I sometimes think his spirit haunts me and every other LGBTQ activist, unwilling to move on to whatever lies beyond. His spirit is restless because of the unfinished business left to do here in this world.
No, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I do believe that the spirit and essence of what a person does in this life can remain after death to affect others. Sometimes it is profound, stemming from a shared memory and common history.
As far as spirits go, having Harvey Milk around is not a bad thing. In fact, hearing his voice echo in my ears occasionally has actually kept me from falling into despair.
That sense despair is fed by the actions of our state officials, who seem bound and determined to prevent us from enjoying our rights as citizens of Texas and the United States. They are determined to steal away the one thing that drove Harvey, and that is hope.
By crafting blatantly unconstitutional bills that would prevent clerks from issuing same-sex marriage certificates, these lawmakers try to steal our hope of having our relationships recognized legally by the state. They are trying to snatch away the hope that comes from the impending Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage bans that make a patchwork of inequality across our country.
And I hear Harvey’s voice as he said, “…you have to give them hope.” And I hear my own voice cry, “Thieves!”
I hear Harvey’s spirit as I watch our insane politicians blame everything from the drought to the riots in Baltimore on “the gays,” and try to scare us back into silence. His voice shouts, “Hope will never be silent.”
I hear conservative people say we cannot afford to grant LGBTQ people equality — “Think of the litigation and the lawsuits against preachers who refuse to marry gay couples. It will be too great a burden on us.”
The fact is that no such lawsuits have happened, and most likely none will happen. It’s just another deception designed to rob us of hope.
And I hear Harvey’s spirit grumbling in my ear, “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual.”
I see stories about homophobia and the violence it instills in people, and how politicians, preachers and pundits stoke the fires that drive this hatred. And I realize they are trying to steal our hope — our hope to be allowed to live our lives and love whom we will and get the same respect and rights as every other American.
That is the hope they would steal by calling equality, “special rights” and by denigrating our relationships by comparing them to bestiality and worse. They would insult us and intimidate us to go back into the closet of oppression simply so they can be more comfortable.
And I hear Harvey’s spirit speaking to me, reminding me of what he said so many years ago: “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
I often wonder what Harvey Milk would say today. Here in Dallas, Texas. Here in a state so riddled with irrational hatred and fear of LGBTQ people that our legislature has tried to turn ordinary citizens into “bathroom police” to keep those sneaky transgender people from infiltrating the bathrooms of the gender they identify with. A state where no crazy law or ordinance is disputed as long as it benefits the white heterosexual majority. To hell with it being constitutional! A state where millions of dollars are spent to perpetrate a crime against LGBTQ citizens of Texas that may actually be worse than any physical act — the theft of hope.
Against that criminal act, I firmly believe, we must take action. Consider yourselves citizen guardians, protecting our hope for not just same-sex marriage, but hope for full equality.
Take that radical step. Don’t just come out, refuse to go away. Listen carefully. Listen. Do you hear it? That voice that still speaks to us after so many years.
It’s Harvey’s spirit, and he is saying, “And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped — the us’es, the us’es — will give up.”
Refuse to give up. Refuse to lose hope, so that someday Harvey Milk’s restless spirit might finally find peace. Refuse to be silent and hang onto that one thing that can never be stolen — HOPE.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2015.