OPINION Harvey Milk fought for LGBTQ+ rights: We need to keep his legacy alive

by Brian Springfield | Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza
Friday, 20 May 2022 10:58 GMT

A lifelike model of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk is seen on a parade float in a gay pride parade in San Francisco, California June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Harvey Milk battled for LGBTQ+ liberation and his words are now more relevant than ever decades after his death.

Brian Springfield is the Executive Director of the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza based in San Francisco, California.

In 1978, Harvey Milk famously shouted we need “you, and you, and you” from his soapbox in San Francisco in a bid to mobilize tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ people.

Now, more than four decades later, his message remains just as important, as we face an onslaught of homophobia and transphobia across the US.

Since the start of 2022, more than 200 pieces of legislation have been introduced across the country with the aim of demeaning, devaluing, shaming, and silencing the LGBTQ+ community. Many have been signed into law.

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which bans sexual orientation and gender issues from being discussed in classrooms, will come into effect in Florida in July, while bans on gender-affirming healthcare for trans minors are underway in Alabama and Texas.

States are criminalizing queer and trans lives. Speaking out, building coalitions, and passing the megaphone to repressed voices is more necessary than ever.

It means this Harvey Milk Day on Sunday – on what would have been his 92nd birthday – is a critical moment to keep his words alive.

As the first openly gay man elected to California public office, Harvey pushed relentlessly for LGBTQ+ rights before he was assassinated in 1978. He was a strategic fighter who understood the importance of forging partnerships among marginalized groups.

Now, during this rise in hateful legislation, the same liberties he fought for are in danger of being erased.

The Castro, Harvey’s neighborhood which became the epicenter of the gay liberation movement in San Francisco, is an indispensable reminder that there are safe spaces where LGBTQ+ people are not just accepted but celebrated.

It will soon be home to the new Harvey Milk Plaza, a dedicated gathering place for LGBTQ+ people and their allies, which has been designed to embody that same message.

It will encourage others to carry on Harvey’s legacy through action – and now we are calling on other states and cities to invest in their LGBTQ+ residents in the same way.

We need “you, and you, and you” to help foster new and old relationships within the community by creating safe and accepting spaces. We must prioritize the most marginalized people, including transgender people – especially Black trans women, trans women of color, and queer and trans youth.

LGBTQ+ visibility is necessary to challenge hatred, but visibility without protection or support is just vulnerability. Each person in the LGBTQ+ community deserves freedom, kinship, and the opportunity to be their authentic self.

It is vital we are not shamed or put back in the closet and our message is clear: We will not hide. Together we can fight back, as these bills seek to further limit the freedom of people in our community.

If you feel powerless, know that every person has a part to play. Each donation to a community LGBTQ+ center or trans-led organization helps. Each rally moves someone. Each harm reduction initiative provides care.

We will not let politicians bury us in the past.

As Harvey himself said: “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” We all have a part to play in building this future.