Column: “My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”

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Photo: Michael Cushman

Recently, Stuart Milk supported us and Orlando by issuing an eloquent and moving statement that was picked up by media worldwide. He was one of our community’s strongest and most steadfast voices, appearing multiple times on national broadcast and cable TV, however, he would not let hate and violence stop him from his long-planned commitment to continue our support of the emerging and struggling LGBT community in the Baltic nations, and recently, in Vilnius, Lithuania, along with the President of the European Union, he led a remembrance.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
Those words were spoken by Harvey many times. He started saying them because of what was going on here in Florida. Many remember it well, but I can sadly tell you, many in our community, the younger generation in particular, don’t even know who Harvey is.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Many people associate that quote with Winston Churchill but that, in and of itself is a history lesson, because it was actually written in 1905 by philosopher George Santayana, himself, probably a gay man.

Over the past few weeks we have all been filled with a myriad of emotions from sorrow to anger. So overwhelming at times that we could not stop crying, could not stop wanting it all to go away, to crawl into that small and comfy space, close the door, and turn off the light. 

But this isn’t about making ourselves feel better, this is about fixing this horrific wound in our collective being; this is about making the world a better place. For everyone: gay, straight, bi, trans, and gender fluid; Latino; Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, or any other form of personal enlightenment; American or not - the world - the whole world.

Related: The Day I Met Harvey Milk

When a member stands up and speaks on the floor of the Parliament in Hungary and asks where all the Jews are, because we should keep track of them, we should be prompted to action. And no, that was not in Churchill’s day, - that was in November 2012 and the world - we - barely noticed.

And as Stuart Milk, often says, those who make such statements have a shopping list, and you can be certain, we are on it.

We need to take action. We need to take action here, in America, we need to take action in Hungary, and we need to take action everywhere that people are being marginalized, minimized, bullied, brutalized, and yes, killed. Whether those people are LGBT or Jewish, Latino or Roma, or black, or Muslim. Who, is not the only issue - why is just as important. We need to look at our world as what it really is - a global community of humans. We need to learn about each other, get to know each other, support each other, and then “all of them” becomes “all of us.”

So talk to people who are different from you. Strike up a conversation in the grocery line. Talk to your neighbor who you usually only wave to. Read a book about a different culture, better yet, start a book club and then read a book about another culture. Look at others’ differences as what makes us human, not as what makes us separate. Volunteer. Educate others about your community, learn about other’s communities, make contact.

An orthodox rabbi walked into a gay bar.

Sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it isn’t. As soon as the Jewish holiday of Shavous was over, a Rabbi in Washington D.C. went, with several members of his congregation, to a gay bar. Why? Because they needed to do something in response to the horror in Orlando. They were moved to action. The weren’t too familiar with the gay bar scene so they went to the first one that someone knew of.

It turned out to be a bar that was frequented by the African American gay community and by the end of the evening, after crying together and praying together, talking to each other, and simply getting to know each other, they had moved the world a little closer to that better place.

Over one hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris on what it means to be a citizen in a republic. Many people know the speech for its description of the man in the arena who, when he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. But in that same speech, he also said that there is very little usefulness in this world for one who doesn’t take action when action would be simple and effective. Those words are more pertinent today than they ever were then.

Until last week, many of us in the United States thought we had it good. We won marriage equality, we were rallying behind the trans and gender fluid community and we had hope that we would change many hearts and minds towards acceptance of us all.

But we really weren’t paying much attention to the world outside our borders. This is our wake-up call. We need to change our perspective. Vigils were held this past week in many other countries.  From 30,000 LGBT people and allies in the center of London singing Bridge Over Troubled Water — to over 1,000 people holding candles in Saigon, to 10,000 gathered in a cold night in Sydney, to 8,000 in Buenos Aires, even a handful in Moscow who were arrested for showing their support for Orlando but were undeterred. Those numbers tell it all.

So please, look beyond our borders, stop saying we need to fix things here, at home, before we worry about elsewhere. The whole world is watching.

I want to close with the last lines of a poem written in 1624 by John Donne:

“Any man's death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.”


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