Heath Andrews John K. Shelburne Intro to Media Arts

Heath
Andrews

John
K. Shelburne

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Intro
to Media Arts

December
15, 2017

 

Milk and Prop 8

            In 1978, Proposition 6, also known
as The Briggs Initiative, was a ballot that would have banned gays and
lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported LGBT rights, from working in public
schools in California. Harvey Milk is considered the main reason the proposition
failed. The ballot seemed to be succeeding, but with Milk’s influence and
courage, shown through speeches and protests against the government’s
discrimination, the voter turnout was 70.41% against the ballot. The 2008 film Milk showed Harvey Milk’s journey to
becoming a revolutionary symbol. Then in 2017, the TV mini-series “When We
Rise” follows Cleve Jones and other activists of the civil rights movement
under Milk. In 2008, before President Barack Obama had been elected, there was
a ballot similar to Proposition 6, called Proposition 8. This proposition
proposed that people in same-sex relationships could not get married. Unlike
Proposition 6, however, Proposition 8 passed and same-sex marriage was made
illegal in the state of California. If the movie Milk had been released earlier, though, people believe it would
have cancelled Prop 8, just like Harvey Milk ruined Prop 6.

Milk by Gus Van Sant is a feature-length
film about the life of Harvey Milk who was the first openly gay man in the
United States to be elected for public office. After two failed attempts, he
was finally placed on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. The movie portrays
Milk has the leader of a national movement, which he was. He spoke out against
discrimination of gays, Latinx, African Americans, and many others, while also
being an ally towards anyone with his same goal, such as liberals, unions,
teachers, etc. His goal was to make his people less persecuted and more
visible. Before Milk’s time, there were only a handful of gay rights
milestones. After, however, the number skyrocketed. Harvey Milk’s life touched
so many people, gay and straight, trans and cis, that Proposition 6 didn’t have
a chance to win through the bigot minority. Milk
could have had the same effect if it had been released before Proposition 8
could win.

Milk began with a 48-year-old Harvey
Milk recounting his experiences from the age of 40 to his present day. It
followed his love affairs, which started with his lover Scott Smith. It showed
them moving to the Castro District and opening a camera shop. They helped turn
the area into the gay capital, even though it was still a place where
discrimination by homophobic police officers occurred. Milk made many
companions along his journey, including Cleve Jones, Jack Lira, and Dan White.

He finally got a seat on the Board of Supervisors. One year later, Milk’s old
friend, Dan White, assassinated him along with Mayor George Moscone. Milk’s
murderer was a Catholic member of the Board of Supervisors, a former police officer
and firefighter, but also a drunk, and while under the influence, he outed
himself as gay to Harvey Milk. George Moscone was an early supporter of gay
rights and gave many minorities positions of power. White had an argument with
Moscone, who refused to give White his city council job back by influence of
Milk and other progressive members of the board. Dan White brought a .38
revolver into City Hall on November 27, 1978. He shot Moscone four times, twice
in the head and twice in the chest. He then found Milk and shot him twice in
the chest, once in the back, and twice again in the head1. White pleaded to diminished
capacity due to stress and depression. A defense therapist, Martin Blinder,
said that the cause for this outburst of aggression was because before the
crime, he began eating a horrible diets of Coke and Twinkies and the sugar high
made it “impossible for him to form the intent necessary for a murder
conviction.”2
National newspapers coined the term the “Twinkie defense,”3 which is a term for an
absurd legal explanation for crime.

After Milk’s time, gays were on the
rise. From the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in
1979 to the District of Columbia allowing their residents to have a gender
neutral option on their driver’s license in 2017. In between these dates, there
were so many more accomplishments. In 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out as a
lesbian, which made her character on Ellen
the first leading role to be out on a prime time television show. Then in
2009, President Barack Obama awarded Ellen Degeneres and the late Harvey Milk
with the Medal of Freedom. In 2012, President Obama became the first president
to openly support gay marriage. In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Military Equal
Opportunity policy had been changed to include gays and lesbians that served in
the military. Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of a United
States military branch when he was placed as the Army’s secretary in 2016.

Later that same year, the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender people serving
in the military. The latest great victory for LGBT people was in 2017 when the
first openly transgender candidate, Danica Roem, was elected for the Virginia
House of Delegates.

Despite all of these wonderful
achievements, gays still face a mountain of discrimination.4 Today, gay men are not
allowed to give blood, and in some states sodomy is illegal and criminalized
simply to oppose gay sex. President Bill Clinton also passed laws pertaining to
gay people, but not in the way President Obama did. President Clinton passed
the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill, that prohibited openly gay people from
serving in the military, but protected closeted homsexuals. He also signed the
Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as
husband and wife.” This made it illegal for federal law to recognize gay
marriage. Gay people also face inadequate health care, including sexual
education, or the lack thereof. If a place is lucky enough to have sex ed that
is more than “abstinence only,” it probably still doesn’t describe how to have
safe gay sex. Trans kids are not protected with anti-bullying initiatives nor
do they have proper restroom policies. If anything, the government seems to be
moving backwards when it comes to equality. The President even discussed
putting a ban on transgender people being able to serve in the military because
they are a “burden” on taxes. On top of this, gay people are still being mass
murdered. For example, in Orlando, Florida at a gay nightclub, 49 people were
killed simply for their identity. People also can lose their jobs after they
finally become legally married to their partner. Mississippi also passed a law
that allowed business owners to turn away gay customers for their supposed
“religious freedom.” Through the suffering, though, the LGBT community has
never been stronger. More people are coming out and living their true lives.

The more that the LGBTQIA+ community fights for their freedom, and gains it,
the freer everyone else will be too.

As mentioned previously, the reason Milk was delayed to premiere was because
the director, Gus Van Sant, wanted the movie to live on after Obama’s election.

If he had premiered it sooner, he could have helped kill Prop 8, similar to how
Harvey Milk killed Prop 6. Although Proposition 6 was devastating to so many
people, it had melancholy bright sides. The Stonewall Riots exposed police
brutality and during that time and a mass of gays migrated to San Francisco,
which became the gay capital of America. The Gay Liberation Front, the first
United States gay rights organization, also began as an effect of the social
climate. Even as gays came out of the shadows and lived proudly, even in the
liberal west coast, they still faced major discrimination. It was hard for gays
to get jobs simply for being gay, and homelessness in the LGBT community was
everywhere, just like today in 2017.

            The Stonewall Riots is known for
being the beginning of gay liberation5. Black drag queens rebelled
against corrupt police officers, even though history whitewashed the milestone,
making it seem as though it were white gay men who started this revolution6.

The riots were a series of violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT
community against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in 1969 in Greenwich, New
York City. What triggered these riots were a multitude of situations. There
were many political groups already in the thick of it, including the Civil
Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Along with this, Greenwich
Village was liberal, so together the riots were bound to happen. Leading up to
1969 many homophile groups were trying to show that gays could be a part of
modern society, including that they should have equal education to
heterosexuals. After Stonewall, gays came out of the shadows and out of the closet
and began making names for themselves. Way before this, though, in the 1530s,
England passed the Buggery Act. This made a criminal offense out of men having
sex with other men. The men in charge could not fathom two women being gay, so
the law said nothing of lesbians. Then, until 1861, Britain still criminalized
gay sexual acts, which was punishable by hanging. This fact is not to say that
the discrimination against gays today is unimportant and doesn’t deserve to be
discussed, but it is important to understand how far society has come over the
last few centuries. In that time, more and more organizations for gay
liberation were founded. The first gay organization in America was the Society
for Human Rights in Chicago, but it only lasted a short while until the police
disbanded it. Laws were also passed in favor for LGBT people. In 1972, Sweden
became the first country to allow transsexuals to change their sex, along with
free hormone therapy. On top of this, the first Gay Liberation March and the
first LGBT Pride Parade were held in 1970 in New York City7.

            Fortunately, Proposition 8 was
overturned in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry8. It was formerly known as
Perry v. Brown and then Perry v. Schwarzenegger.  This began in 2000 when California passed Prop
22 that, like Prop 8, declared that the state only recognized the union of one
man and woman as legitimate marriage. Then, in 2008 the Supreme Court of
California declared that it was unconstitutional to not allow same-sex couples
to be included in the term “marriage,” which negated Proposition 22. Later that
same year, though, is when Prop 8 was passed by California’s citizens. This
modified California’s constitution to say that “only marriage between a man and
woman is valid or recognized by California.”9 The California Supreme Court
announced that “official proponents of a ballot initiative have authority to
assert the state’s interest to defend the constitutionality of the initiative
when public officials refuse to do so.” Two homosexual couples filed suit in
federal court that the officials responsible for the law were violating their
Fourteenth Amendment rights. When the state officials, along with then-governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown, could not defend the
law on behalf of the constitution, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit deemed the law unconstitutional.

            “When We Rise: My Life in the
Movement,” written by Cleve Jones shows his journey during the gay liberation
movement and his life right alongside Harvey Milk. The book was then turned
into a docudrama miniseries in 2017, which was also directed by Gus Van Sant.

Jones lived out Milk’s legacy and continues to today. He befriended Harvey Milk
when he moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, and he eventually interned in
Milk’s office while still at school. Jones is an AIDS and LGBT activist and
began the  “NAMES Project AIDS Memorial
Quilt,” which was the largest piece of community folk art in its prime at an
estimated 54 tons. The giant quilt was a memorial to everyone who had died due
to AIDS. Jones got the idea at the candlelight march memorial for Harvey Milk
and Mayor George Moscone. It started with Jones people to write down the late
loved ones that they were marching for on a sign and tape it on the San
Francisco Federal Building. His end goal for the quilt was to bring awareness
to how big the AIDS pandemic truly was and to gain funds for AIDS research,
education, and prevention. Many people that died from AIDS-related causes did
not get funerals or memorials because of the stigma felt by the families left
behind and the fact that funerals and cemeteries refused to participate, so the
quilt was the only chance many families got to say goodbye to their loved ones.

On top of the mourning, each panel of names was the size of an average grave.

This project was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and in 2002, it was
placed in the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.

            “The Mayor of Castro Street: The
Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” which shows Milk’s early childhood until his
last moments, was written by Randy Shilts. It begins with him growing up in
Long Island and him figuring out who he is and what his passions are through
his teenage years, including him realizing his sexuality. It describes his life
when he joined the US Navy during the Korean War. The book follows Milk through
all of his relationships, Joe Campbell to Scott Smith, and important life
decisions, like settling down with Smith in the castro District with their
quaint camera shop and his political endeavours. He starts to make a difference
on a wide scale when he was elected to public office. Shilts describes the last
parts of his life, from the 11 months he was in office to the day Dan White
assassinated him in cold blood. Finally, White’s trial and incarceration are
put to paper. White and Milk at first were friends, until Milk voted against a
proposal that went against White’s platform. This is when the jealousy and
hatred of Milk is believed to start. White had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter
and only served five years. This sentencing sparked the most violent riots
since Stonewall. These were called the White Night Riots. After the riots has
already broken up, though, police in riot gear raided a gay bar in San
Francisco’s Castro District, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of
property damage and countless injuries inflicted upon rioters and officers. Two
thousand arrests were made that night and the SFPD was sued several times due
to this retaliation raid. Gay leaders refused to apologize for the riots and
this stubbornness increased the power LGBT people had in politics. Dianne
Feinstein, the board’s first female president, then appointed a pro-gay Police
of Chief, who in turn appointed many more gay police officers.

             Harvey Milk was an important milestone in the
gay community. The community recently remembered him and celebrated his life
and legacy on the 39th anniversary of the day he was assassinated, November
27th. He, as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office, changed
the LGBT community forever. Before him, there were milestones for the
community, but he showed that gay people can be in any position of power that a
straight person can. This changed everyone’s mindset, gay and straight. Before
him, there seemed to be more setbacks than progress. After him, however, gays
were finally starting to be seen as regular people. All minorities, not limited
to gays, are far from being treated as equal as the straight, cis white man,
but I believe we can eventually get there. Despite all the progress, everyone
has a long way still to go. When it is the norm for people to stand up for
themselves and others is when we can truly be equal and free.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

“California Proposition 6,
the Briggs Initiative (1978).” Ballotpedia,
ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_6,_the_Briggs_Initiative_(1978).

Accessed 31 Aug. 2017.

 

“California Proposition 8,
the.” Ballotpedia,
ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_8,_the_%22Eliminates_Right_of_Same-Sex_Couples_to_Marry%22_Initiative_(2008).

Accessed 31 Aug. 2017.

 

“Bringing People Hope:
Harvey Milk and the Gay Rights Movement in America.” Tavaana,
tavaana.org/en/content/bringing-people-hope-harvey-milk-and-gay-rights-movement-america-0.

Accessed 31 Aug. 2017.

 

Lim, Dennis. “If Gus Van
Sant’s Milk had come out earlier, would Prop 8 still have passed?” Slate Magazine, 26 Nov. 2008,
www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2008/11/harvey_would_have_opened_it_in_october.html.

Accessed 31 Aug. 2017.

_145288.html.

 

DerrickClifton. “11 Major
Obstacles to Equality That LGBT Americans Still Face in 2014.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 25 Oct. 2015,
mic.com/articles/92349/11-major-obstacles-to-equality-that-lgbt-americans-still-face-in-2014#.s16w39GA1.

 

“A
Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: Proposition 8.” Guides,
guides.ll.georgetown.edu/c.php?g=592919=4182204.

 

Epstein, Rob. “What Harvey
Milk Tells Us About Proposition 8.” The
Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 21 Nov. 2008, www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-epstein/what-harvey-milk-tells-us_b

 

 

1 https://www.biography.com/people/dan-white-17169664

2 https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/twinkie_defense

3 http://prospect.org/article/twinkie-defense

4 the-challenges-that-remain-for-lgbt-people-after-marriage-ruling.html

5 the-stonewall-riots

6 ladies-in-the-streets-before-stonewall-transgender-uprising-changed-lives

7https://mic.com/articles/92349/11-major-obstacles-to-equality-that-lgbt-americans-still-face-in-2014#.kuR5g7AEW

8 https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-144_8ok0.pdf

9 https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/12-144