Happy Birthday Harvey, Your Victory Was Ours

By Laura Kacere

Yesterday marked the 2nd anniversary of Harvey Milk Day, and what would have been the 81st birthday of our country’s first openly gay politician. As a city supervisor for San Francisco, Milk successfully passed a gay rights ordinance that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation, the first of its kind and a signifier of change in the nation.

This weekend also brought the results of a new poll showing that the majority of Americans support gay marriage. The Gallop survey, released Friday, found that 53% of Americans say that same-sex marriage should be considered valid and given the same rights of heterosexual marriages, while 45% oppose. This is the first time a Gallup poll has shown a majority support for same sex marriage. The same poll given one year ago resulted in 53% opposition to gay marriage, and only 44% in support.

While opinion polls show that attitudes are on the upswing, some current legislation reflects a different direction.  Minnesota approved a measure in the House on Saturday that would place a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the 2012 state ballot, a move that some are beginning to call “Prop 8 of the Midwest.”  In North Carolina, the only Southern state without a gay marriage ban, legislators are now considering ban on gay marriage.

So where are we? Are things getting better? With a majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage comes a changing culture, one that sees equality in legislation as important, gay marriage as non-threatening, and pushes politicians to answer to the people they represent. While it seems that anti-gay legislation is on the upswing (and I’m sure we have a lot of anti-gay sentiment to look forward to in the upcoming 2012 Republican presidential candidates), these numbers are hopeful.  Of course, they are not enough. We know Obama signed authorization for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, yet exactly 5 months later, it is still law.

What is so powerful and significant to me about Harvey Milk, is that he was an activist that pushed for alliance building. He saw the connections among marginalized groups and actively sought to bring these groups together, recognizing that people of color, youth, seniors, the disabled, women, and gays had a similar stake in shaking off discrimination and intolerance. Milk also found a political ally in unions, effectively staging a boycott of Coors beer when the company refused to sign a union contract, and gaining the support of unions for gay rights issues.

With so much student activism on campuses around the country in support of worker’s rights and reproductive rights, we should follow Milk’s example in seeing that coalitions and teamwork are the most effective way to make change, that we have allies in more places than we may at first realize, and that our rage at current legislation and politicians that do not recognize the rights of minority groups is shared by people that, when working together, create a majority.

We are all connected and we must maintain that in order to fight. Milk once said, “It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.” Milk remains a hero today, inspiring us to work together and fight with and for each other in all forms and in all corners of the nation.

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