The silly thing is that every time I watch anything about Harvey Milk, I know what’s coming. I mean in the first few minutes of the film starring Sean Penn, the clip of Dianne Feinstein telling the world that Moscone and Milk had been shot is shown, so not only did I already know what’s coming, not only do I already know how it all ends, but there’s the young Feinstein just making sure I haven’t forgotten. Yet still, when the bullets tear through him at the end, and he stares across the street to the Opera House, presumably being reminded in his last moments of the hope he found early that morning, I cry. It feels like the first time. It feels as though I didn’t know it was coming.
I’ve always been sensitive and prone to dramatics, but tonight, watching Milk, I only stopped crying long enough to say goodbye to the residents and student staff who’d planned the screening and walk home. Because all the hope and redemption and possibility I’d felt every other time I’ve watched or read anything about Harvey Milk, this time, I saw the film within days of four suicides. Four young men, all targeted, bullied, and/or harassed for being assumed to be gay, took their own lives to prevent more torment. Four. As Ellen Degenres said today, “One life lost in this way is tragic; four lives is a crisis.”
Four young lives, lives that no blog post or memorial written by a stranger could ever do justice to.
Tyler Clementi, a first year student at Rutgers University jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22 after his roommate secretly recorded him having a sex with another man and posted it on the internet. He had not come out to friends or family.
On September 23, in Texas, Asher Brown, 13, shot himself in the head shortly after the years-long bullying turned violent: he had been tripped down one flight of stairs, and then another. When he got home from school, he found his stepfather’s gun, and pulled the trigger.
Seth Walsh, a California thirteen year old, died Wednesday after nine days in a coma resulting from hanging himself in a tree in his backyard.
Billy Walsh, 15, from Indiana, hanged himself in the family barn after years of being bullied in school as gay, even though he never identified himself as gay.
A handful of paltry sentences that lack the proper poetry to truly represent who these young men were to their families, to their friends, to us as a country.
A dear friend, who’s brother asked her after he came out to her, “Do you still love me?” wrote last night: “If you are against homosexuality, gay marriage, and people LOVING each other, I just ask you to please look at these acts among us, and see how your judgement, hatred, or disdain for someone who you simply cannot understand is hurting them much more than they will ever hurt you.” I couldn’t say it better.
Ellen, too, has done her part:
Dan Savage, and thousands of gays inspired by this project, have done their part:
Both Ellen and Dan have a personal stake in this: they grew up and managed to survive being gay in America. But it isn’t enough for celebrities who are gay to stand up and urge for social change. And it isn’t fair that the community being oppressed does all the work of creating social change. Those of us who are straight need to feel the same righteous grief that any gay person might. If you’re not, then do some soul searching, as in find yours, and start talking to everyone you know about how important it is to teach tolerance, compassion, openness, and love to our young folks.
Talk to any young person you know and tell them you love them, that you believe in them, that no matter who they are, you will support them. Make sure they know that you will never give up on them, and that you will be proud of their every accomplishment.
If you hear someone make a biased joke or remark, don’t let it slide. Ask them to explain what they meant. Connect what they just said to the larger culture of intolerance and it’s consequences (like these suicides) and urge them to consider using more inclusive language.
Above all else, let’s not let these boys down in death as we did while they were with us. Let’s follow the examples of Ellen and Dan and feed the fire of hope that is Harvey Milk’s legacy.