Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into public office was assassinated. In 1978 Daniel White, a former elected official in San Francisco killed both Milk and the Mayor. Now Milk is know as a “Martyr for gay rights” according to Peter Novak, who is a professor at University of San Francisco. Harvey Milk is both symbolically and literally an important historical representation of past gay rights movements, but also the climate that any one who wanted to be both gay and political would have to endure through. This is a climate of homophobia and threats. Harvey experienced both and ultimately his life was taken. I now pose the question: In the 33 years since his death, have there been any significant changes?
New York Times reports: “Sixty-two percent of Americans now say a candidate’s sexual orientation does not matter to them, up from 51 percent four years ago, according to survey published last week by the Pew Research Center. Of the estimated 500,000 elected officials in the United States, 495 are openly gay, up from 49 about 20 years ago, according to the Victory Fund.”
I grew up wanting to be a politician. Why? Well, the answer is simple, I wanted to have a positive impact on society, and bring my experience to rooms that many times lack diversity, rooms that create policies that will shift the fabric of people’s lives, and rooms that far too often have abandoned the marginalized, disadvantaged communities.
When I became a teenager and realized that I would have to accept a secondary layer of being pushed to the margins (first due to my race, then my sexuality), my hopes to be a politician quickly become unrealistic to me. 25 years after Harvey Milk, the first gay politician was killed in office, I simply told myself, “I can’t be a politician, I’m gay.”
Now eight years later I now must question my former cynicism. It would obviously be nice to write a blog about how much the world is changing and how everything will be ice cream and rainbows because gay people are accepted now, but unfortunately, I have not gained that level of confidence in my personal gauge of optimism. However, I still am left to question: If I, an openly gay black man, ran for office in a majority black district, could I win if I was the best candidate?
The same New York Times article that gives some hope for the future potentiality of being a gay politician, also reports this: “Despite the increasing public acceptance, obstacles remain. Bruce Kraus, a gay member of the Pittsburgh City Council, told the trainees about the bricks thrown through his campaign office window a couple of years ago, offensive language was spray-painted on some of his signs, and antigay literature was passed out at Catholic churches”
I already have many doubts about what it means to run for political office. You know, the usual doubts about honesty, corruptness, and compromising within the political realm. But when you add in the “openly gay” phrase to the job of a politician, it can be discouraging with the given history.
At this point in time I don’t know what my future holds. But to see more open politicians springing up boldly across the country adds plenty of nuanced encouragement to the current political climate.