A story of love, activism, and polyester suits

It is 2:43 AM and the credits of the movie “Milk” are rolling up on my TV screen. I’m still recovering from the emotional typhoon that just hit me. The movie is both inspiring and enlightening. Director Gus Van Sant gives us a touching glimpse into the life of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), ex insurance agent, legendary gay rights activist, who was a pioneer in the gay rights movement that began in the US in the 70’s. Sean Penn’s performance was breathtaking. He didn’t play Harvey Milk, he was Harvey Milk. Did anyone else get teary when he won the Oscar for Best Actor? I felt like we all won that day.
What’s interesting about this film is that it’s more than a historical narrative; it’s a human story showing the people behind the movement. Real people. Real lives.

The movie opens with real footage from the 60’s of brutal police crackdowns on gay nightclubs, with police beating people with their batons and hoarding them into vans like common criminals, many hiding their faces in shame. The scene could have easily been set in Beirut when police conducted “random” searches and arrests in Acid and BO. The only difference is that the scene in the movie was set in 1967, not 2001. So I figure we are only behind by about 30 years. Although watching the first Gay Pride parade of San Francisco did remind me of the anti-violence sit-in that took place last month in Sodeco Square, which I hope is the first of many. Is it too soon to start buying hers & hers wedding gifts (aka matching wrist cuffs)?

The year is 1970 and Harvey is on the New York subway platform stairs when he meets Scott Smith (James Franco) and after sharing that it was his 40th birthday he proceeds to makes out with Scott, a complete(ly cute) stranger. Well, in his defense, it was the 70’s and people were still buzzed from all the pot smoke still hovering in the air from the 60’s. So after Harvey and Scott enjoy Biblical birthday celebrations, they decide to move to San Francisco.

“40 years old and I haven’t done a thing that I’m proud of.” says Harvey to Scott. Apparently, the pioneer of the gay rights movement had a late start (really late). This just goes to show you, it is never too late to make a difference in this world.
Our heroes move to San Francisco where Milk opens a camera store in Castro Street, Castro Camera. Who knew that from that little camera shop in Castro Street, an unstoppable force would explode?
Besides Milk, the Castro was a very important character in the movie. It was a Mecca for gays and lesbians from all of the US to find acceptance, especially after Milk began his work there. The Castro was a working-class Irish neighborhood until the mid-1960s. It’s rumored that many gay servicemen from World War II settled in the Castro after they were discharged for being homosexuals the U.S. where they magically multiplied and took over San Francisco.

Just like Milk was the face of the male gay movement at the time, his new campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), represented the women in the movement. Its funny how even gay men, who are marginalized themselves would turn around and do the same to the women fighting for equal rights. Even though Anne was ridiculed at first by Milk’s boy’s club campaign team, she definitely proved herself and accomplished things that none of them ever could. She was a driving force behind Milk’s win of that particular election.

My knowledge of historical movements is superficial at best but what MILK brought home for me was that anyone can fight for change, if they have enough conviction and passion for a cause. I mean this middle-aged guy came out of nowhere and created something out of nothing. Harvey Milk only began his activism at the age of 40, and lost the election for city supervisor like 3 times before he won, and lost the love of his life because of it. That really got me thinking the power of movements.

The movie established the importance of what movements like Helem and Meem are doing to make change. I mean, I always thought that our society would come around eventually. That there will come a time when all men and women will have equal civil rights, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or faith. That one day we will stop asking each other “min wein min Lebnen?” which translates to tell me where you are from so I can know which religious/political faith/platform you follow. But that’s another story for another post.

So going back to my previous calculation of 30 years, I predict that in 2038, the Muslim and Christian religious right of Lebanon will put forth a proposition to ban gay marriage (which was made legal in 2035). The proposition (let’s call it Prop 8) will pass bringing us all back to square one. I don’t mean to sound morbid or pessimistic, it’s just that it breaks my heart to see my own society turning against people who just want to love and live. I do see change happening, and not on its own. It’s happening because we are making it happen.

I believe we are the lucky ones. We have our work cut out for us and we have a base to build on, and we have unstoppable weapons in our arsenal. Young, passionate, beautiful, intelligent forces to reckoned with.

“I am not a candidate; I am part of a movement. The movement is the candidate. There is a difference. You don’t see it. But I do.” - Harvey Milk

Business Hippie