I have found that when I learn about a subject of great importance for the very first time, I actually become frustrated with myself for not already knowing about it. Obviously the purpose of college is to provide an education, so I can’t get too hung up on simple ignorance. However, I find this situation the most frustrating when I am learning about an issue such as gay rights.
When information about incredibly impactful, large-scale social movements is excluded from history courses, I have to question the quality of that specific education. Thankfully, I have now had that knowledge shared with me through my own college education, and just in case this information has not been shared with you yet, I want you to know what I know.
In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California. Eleven short months later, he was assassinated in his office (Mayor George Moscone assassinated only minutes before) by another official, Dan White. White was sentenced to seven years in prison, but only served five years. His ridiculously short sentence sparked riots, famously known as the White Night Riots. Milk became a kind of martyr for the gay rights movement.
Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of Milk’s story is that only nine days before his assassination, Milk recorded his will. In it, he stated, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” It is as if he had already accepted his future assassination, as if he was prepared to use the loss of his life as a call to action and a source of hope.
Milk, a 2008 film adaptation of Milk’s assassination story, is available on Netflix. Personally, I could not believe I never knew about this piece of history. If, like me, his story is new to you, I urge you to watch Milk. It explores not only his activist life (that didn't start until he was 40) but also his personal life and the ways in which the two connect and complicate each other. You will laugh, you will cry, you will cheer, and then you will probably cry again. But it is so worth it.
(Sean Penn as Harvey Milk)