Milk and Moving Forward

November 24, 2008

The new bio-pic about Harvey Milk premiered a few weeks ago and opens in limited release this week.  Milk, of course, was our first openly gay elected official, the subject of books and profiles.  A gay hero and pathbreaker, he was assassinated along with Mayor  George Moscone thirty years ago in  the San Francisco City Hall where he served as supervisor.  Their killer, fellow Supervisor Dan White, was acquitted of murder charges but found guilty of manslaughter, serving five years of a seven-year sentence.  White later committed suicide.

Supervisor Dianne Feinstein, now a U.S. Senator, succeeeded Moscone as Mayor.  She was quoted in the New York Times yesterday by Maureen Dowd:

Dianne Feinstein is not sure she’ll ever be able to watch the movie “Milk,” even though she’s in it.

There is 1978 footage of a stricken Feinstein in the opening minutes of the new Gus Van Sant biopic of Harvey Milk, her colleague on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay elected official in American history. (Sean Penn soars as Milk.)

“I was the one who found his body,” the California senator told me Friday, on route from the airport to her home in San Francisco. “To get a pulse, I put my finger in a bullet hole. It was a terrible, terrible time in the city’s history.”

Dowd’s piece continues with reflections on same-sex marriage and equality from Feinstein and from longtime gay activist Larry Kramer.  I rarely quote Dowd, because her ascerbic tone so seldom sits very well with me.  Dowd restrains herself here, allowing Kramer to take that voice.  It’s worth reading.

Here in Houston, we have two lesbians elected to city-wide office.  One, City Controller Annise Parker, is widely seen as a likely candidate for Mayor.  The other, At-Large Concilmember Sue Lovell, is a member of the Democratic National Committee.  Their sexual orientation is a feature, but not the overriding fact, of their public life.

Thirty years, and a world of difference.

Harvey Milk led the way.


4 Responses to “Milk and Moving Forward”

  1. Annise Parker Says:

    I remember the impact of Milk’s assassination, and know that the world has changed in significant ways. Milk was an inspiration. I have a small bone to pick with you, however. Milk was the first openly gay man elected, but he was preceeded by Rep. Elaine Noble. Women tend to get dropped from history.

  2. robertangelo Says:

    Annise, thank you for your comment. I’m very sorry for the error. I’m guilty of repeating erroneous information from one or another piece that I read while I was writing my note.

    I do greatly respect women. I know you’re a very busy person, but sometime I hope you have a chance to read my post about why I supported Hillary Clinton this year, inspired by the examples of my mother, a very strong-minded woman, and her best friend who was also my godmother. My godmother was a former Democratic chair in Tarrant County.


    All the best to you
    Addition Tuesday Evening: The above is from a short note I sent to Annise Parker thanking her for her comment. On further review, I have to amend this to say that “I’m guilty of sloppy writing.” Clearly I should have taken a few extra minutes to research the back story and pay more attention to the subject.

  3. robertangelo Says:

    Yet more information: A quick search took me to Kansas City Camp’s article about the movie, including:

    “Though Milk was the first out gay man elected, he was not the first openly gay elected official: Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on Ann Arbor’s City Council in January 1974 and, later that year, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.”

  4. robertangelo Says:

    A definitive source:

    Worth noting that Allan Spear, elected in 1972 to the Minnesota State Legislature, came out in 1974. Spear was President of the State Senate. He served until his 2000 retirement and passed away October 11, 2008.

    His obituary from the Star-Tribune indicates that he was a great leader and a remarkable man:

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