Civil Rights: “Gay is the New Black” (Fall 2012)

            For my Histropedia paper I have chosen to analyze the gay right’s movement of Equality with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s by emphasizing parallels between these two historical social changes. The historical forces that are central to my paper are roles of specific individuals. I will discuss Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King Jr. for their roles as specific individuals because they served “as a soldier in humanity’s war of liberation by expressing the needs and underlying wishes [of the people]” (Burns Pg.243). Harvey Milk’s high-profile political activism, oratorical skills, and fair of publicity made him one of the gay rights movement’s most prominent national figures (Hall pg.559). Harvey Milk asserted, “If a bullet enters my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door [in the country]”  (Newman, pg.167). Martin Luther King was a vital leader of the Civil rights movement and by helping abolish Jim Crow laws and ending segregation in the South (Wikipedia). King was arrested numerous times and while in jail wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. One of Martin Luther King’s influences was Gandhi as we discussed his life during one of the units in class. Gandhi has influenced leaders worldwide for his strong nonviolence ideology. Both Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King Jr. are powerful transformational leaders during the 60-70’s because they inspired a free nation where every man was created equal. Through their charisma and ideology on nonviolence were both successful in bringing about social change. 

            Harvey Milk fought relentlessly to defeat the Briggs initiative in California that would exclude Homosexual teachers from teaching in public schools in 1978 (Hall pg. 558). In Essence, it wasn’t just a civil rights issue because it went deeper than that. People were highly conservative against homosexuality and Harvey campaigned to argue everyone was still human and deserved respect and the same rights as everyone else. Harvey Milk is vital advocate of the gay rights movement because he is the first openly gay person to hold public office (Wikipedia). He was able to do this because he didn’t just reach out to the gay community instead he wanted to recruit everyone which he made into his motto “I’m Harvey Milk and I want to Recruit you”. He was catalyst for change because he made the issue of discrimination apparent. During his rallies, he refuted how gay men have to worry about walking home at night with the fear of being attacked. These in return are the same type of injustices that Martin Luther King outlined in his speeches. Both King and Milk asserted that if we live in a free nation, no one should fear for their lives or face discrimination based on racism or homophobia. Milk asserted that this nation is so great because every man is created equal under the constitution.    

            In Harvey Milk’s speech he asserts, “On the Statue of Liberty it says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe. “In the Declaration of Independence it is written: “All men are created equal and they are endowed with certain inalienable rights. “And in our National anthem it says: “Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free. For Mr. Briggs and Mrs. Bryant…and all the bigots out there: That’s what America is. No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the declaration of independence… (Hall pg. 559-560)

            At the same time, Harvey’s philosophy was controversial because he wanted every person in the Lgbt community to come out of the closet. People did not want to embrace Harvey’s advice because once you come out of the closet you become the target of discrimination. This is still true today because some laws do not protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation even though cases of hates crimes have made it to the court system. An example would be Mathew Shepard, a political science student who was brutally beaten in Wyoming for being gay. His ideology was frightening to follow because it was revolutionary and that scared people. Nonetheless, he asserted if everyone could see how many family members or friends belong to the gay community that people would begin to realize being gay is no different than having brown hair or blue eyes. 

            Harvey is incorporating some of Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence by inspiring others to act up for change. He is a powerful influence in the gay rights movement as he inspires the queer community and supporters to join the cause voluntarily because he cannot force anyone to come out. The people who chose to come out on Harvey’s behalf are thereby more committed to the cause because they did so by their own free will and were not coerced to. We see this during the protests in India where the most committed followers burn their British I.D.’s and clothing to symbolize their belief in Gandhi.  

            Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the great communicator’s of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he had strong persuasive skills and charisma that inspired a nation to demand for justice. In a “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, King asserts “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal” (Hartwick pg.7). King is saying there are times during American History where the status quo was actually working against the American people. It then becomes the citizen’s responsible to demand change from the government. He also explains this is his letter as he argues, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (Hartwick pg.5). What Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King were successful in doing was not just encouraging support by from the oppressed group, but the nation as a whole.      

  1. Burns, J.M. “Heroes and Ideologues”. Print.  
  2. Hall, Simon. “The American Gay Rights Movement and Patriotic Protest. “Journal Of The History Of Sexuality 19.3 (2010): 536-562. America: History & Life. Web. 7 Dec. 2012
  3. King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham jail”. Hartwick Classic leadership Cases. The Hartwick Humanities in Management Institute. Oneonta. 2001. Print.
  4. Milk. Dir. Gus Van Sant. Focus features. 2008. Film.  
  5. Newman, Lesléa. “A Letter to Harvey Milk” Print. 
  6. Wikipedia contributors. "Harvey milk." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Jan. 2009. Web. 7 Dec. 2012.
  7. Wikipedia contributors. "Martin Luther King Jr." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Nov. 2008. Web. 7 Dec. 2012.