Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 21, 1979

Thirty years ago today on May 21, 1979 a court in San Francisco handed down the most lenient sentence possible to Dan White. White had taken the lives of the Mayor of San Francisco and of Harvey Milk, a member of the San Francisco city supervisors and a champion of social justice for LGBT people. The grotesque injustice in the trial and sentencing of White was yet another slap in the face of LGBT people. It was a reminder, as if one were needed, that “you don’t count,” “you don’t matter,” “you are second class citizens.”

When you repeatedly abuse any minority within a society, there comes a point where you reach “critical mass.” A point where people simply refuse to take the abuse any longer, Stonewall was such a point and so was May 21, 1979. Harvey Milk himself left a recorded message in case he was assassinated. I think it appropriate for us to consider his words, as we pause and recall the events of May 21, 1979.

The aftermath of the assassination produced the following events, recorded here on video:

As we wait yet another court decision, which will determine our immediate fate under the law. It is good to pause and reflect on the long road we have already traveled. It is good to realize that we walk in the footsteps of others who have paid the ultimate price for the gains in our civil rights and human dignity, which we have been able to realize. It is important for us to work for the day when every person in our state and in our nation will enjoy full equality under the law.

How do we get there from here? Many legal experts expect that the court will rule to uphold Prop 8. If that turns out to be the case,there will be a great up swell of emotions when the court’s decision is announced, most probably next week. While these emotions are justified and understandable, we need to direct them in a positive and constructive manner. Yes, we need to express our indignation and outrage at injustice and the continuation of discrimination enshrined in our legal system. How we do this is critical. Many LGBT organizations are collaborating with law enforcement officials to conduct legal and peaceful protests.

We need to look down the road to November 2010. Many groups within our state are working to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal Prop 8. One such group is Love, Honor and Cherish []. We need to reach out to our co-workers, neighbors, people we speak with every day and raise the subject of marriage equality. We need to engage these people in conversations that will move their minds and hearts on this issue. Each of us needs to speak from the heart. Each of us needs to convey what it means to suffer discrimination. Each of us needs to come out, not merely about our orientation but to share what this has cost us personally.

Harvey Milk once said that if every LGBT person came out, discrimination would end. The greatest protest you can make is to “be” by making yourself and your story known.


Birdie said...

I wonder if the LGBT community understands the power of that last statement: "make yourself and your story known."

All these rallies are wonderful for empowering the people who already agree. But they are not the means by which you will sway the opinion of many who can be reached. Those people need to know the consequences of their silence and inaction.

They need to know that the guy that does their taxes has a partner at home that he wants to be able to mention without fear. They need to know that the office manager has a partner and kids and wants desperately to marry so those kids can be protected. They need to know YOU and your stories.

I'm convinced that the silence and inaction is borne of ignorance. Step up and tell your story. Put a face on this issue. This is the time.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Thank you...I think many irresponsible people don´t understand the anger we feel or the injustice we know to be real...that drives part of my anger, it´s not just the injustice, it´s the abuse and the lies.

Steven said...

As much as I was touched by the movie "Milk", dates were one thing that were never remembered; only the events. Thanks for bringing this date to light. Seeing the "amoeba" of candlelight in the YouTube video brought back what I remembered from the movie "Milk" and when I and many others cried by the event's magnitude.

Birdie brings to light some very valid points; points that I so want to follow. But I feel I fail "the movement" by not having the guts to do so and continue the trailblazing that was started by Milk 30 years ago. I hope that changes sooner rather than later.

Birdie said...

Steven, some people—like Dan Choi and our own Father Geoff—have decided to take the risk of telling the world. Not everyone can or should take that route, because clearly the dangers are real. But who knows you already, that should know more? Take time to let them know the harm that laws and doctrine inflict on you. In whatever way you are able, make it real to them, one person at a time.

Joe Decker said...

Thank you! I have found it difficult to convey to many of my friends both a sense of the potential for violence in the coming days while also communicating a constructive sense of hope, and you've nailed it here, far more clearly than I've myself managed. Thank you.

John said...

Dear Father Geoff,

You have a wonderful blog. I found it after I heard you speak at the Fresno City Hall. I also began praying for you after you "hit the news" in Fresno.

I believe you have been sent to all of us (especially the LGBT Christians) by our loving God. I pray for His blessings, courage, strength, and wisdom to be upon you.


Kevin said...

Hi father geoff:

The days ahead will be very emotional. But I'd like to leave the words of Jesus himself: "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage..I have conquered the world!"

Kevin B. :)

Pater Nostra said...

Milk, like Christ, showed us another way of living life to the fullest.

It scares people,as is everything new and one which goes against what is held and believed as eternal tenets. But that's exactly the point of having a Christ- to change things!

I only pray I am called as he was!