I am Gay.
Its amazing how powerful those three words are, even today. I am Gay.
Parents would disown their own children; friends would walk away. I am Gay.
In some cases entire lives would be wrecked. Destroyed.
I am Gay.
Think about what you thought when you saw the title of this post. How would it change how you think of me, if I were gay? Would it change it at all? Really?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I remember Harvey Milk.
I remember the shock and sadness when he was killed. The outrage. The disappointment.
The fact that people can look at another person and like/dislike them on anything else than the content of their character blows me away. It truly makes me sad.
People, on general principle, are not good to each other. People, on general principle, spend most of their energies protecting themselves. It truly makes me angry.
Watching Milk, I openly wept. It was only the second time I have ever done that in a movie. The other time was Schindler’s List. Not because of horrific actions of the Nazis, but because of the hatred, fear and sadness it bred. To understand some of the fear that my grandparents live with (even today), was almost too much to bare.
I will never forget walking out of the theater at Union Station in Washington DC after watching Schindler’s List and overhearing two people talking. “It wasnt that bad. I dont know why it was such a big deal.”
People dont look at other people as additive. Unless, the other person has something to offer. We have become a people that values value above all else.
Growing up in the Bay Area, the environment I grew up in, a strange world of acceptance and difference, certainly had a large affect on me.
Harvey Milk, famously, used to start many of his speeches with “Hi! My name is Harvey, and I am here to recruit you!”
Northern California has always been a mix of peoples. I dont think its strange that San Francisco became the nucleus of the Gay Movement. Its not that wild that the first openly gay politician came from San Francisco.
Harvey’s proclamation that he, a gay man, wanted to recruit those that were in attendance at his speeches, carried a double meaning. The greatest fear of conservative straight men and women was that gay people, given their lack of ability to reproduce, would recruit “straights” to become “gay.” I remember growing up hearing this from friends, and more importantly from friends parents, and luckily, not from my parents.
The Gay Movement was centered on the concept of acceptance. Accept us. We are no different. Educate the world, and they will learn that gay people are equal to everyone else.
From Harvey Milk and the Gay Movement, I learned that everyone was acceptable.
There was another movement in the Bay Area in the late 70s and early 80s, the Black Panther Party.
Started by two college students in Oakland, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense took the non-violent, civil disobedience stance of Martin Luther King, and tossed it out for Ethnic Pride. The Black Panthers Party stood for self-actualization, for doing for one’s self, for racial pride, and in many ways, separation.
Like the Gay Movement, The Black Panthers had a big effect on me. They started breakfast programs and many other social programs around the San Francisco Bay Area. They stood proudly for what they believed and regardless of the opposition, believed in their ability to make change.
But unlike the Gay Movement, the Black Panther Party really was a movement for difference. For acceptable of difference, but not of integration. It was a message that made me spend a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be Jewish. Should I hide who I am, and push for integration? Should I stand separate but equal, knowing it would bring dissonance to most relationships I would ever have?
Watching Milk made me think of the social activism of the Bay Area. It seemed growing up that everyone was passionate about something. Passionate about real change. Changing the way people treated each other; the way people saw one another; the way people loved each other. It seemed to permeate the television (Free To Be… You and Me with Rosie Greer–a NFL player–singing “Its Alright to Cry”) our schools, everywhere. Being respectful and loving was the norm in many ways (remember this is the eyes of a kid).
Even now, 20 years later, it seems causes are celebrated, but miss their mark. How does the passion around the environment, with hybrid cars, the Green Movement, etc make us better to each other?
There are two questions that I will often ask friends, and it always amazes me that they are surprised that I really want answers. The questions:
1) How Are You?
2) What Can I Do To Help?
How can we be good to each other without meaning those questions?
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area has made me who I am (good and bad). I have always been proud of my family and my roots, and how the environment has shaped me. I will also admit that my greatest personal failure is that I dont help more people. That I dont participate in something larger than me that can really make change. I justify it by saying I am helping in a one-to-one way, but is that really what I should be doing? Shouldnt I be doing more?
And, for all of their failures, Harvey Milk and Huey P. Newton taught me that its all about the people. That its all about accepting each other, supporting each other, learning from each other, and elevating each other. And, if that sounds hippie-ish, pollyanna-ish, or whatever, then thats me. I hope you can accept it.