26 Jan Harvey Milk Recruited Me

Last Friday, after running some errands in Northampton, Massachusetts, I discovered that I was an hour away from the showing of Milk at the Pleasant Street Theatre. In November of 1977, when Harvey Milk’s life was cut short by murder, I was a junior in high school, and oblivious to the gay civil rights movement that had been welling up since long before Stonewall. Even though I was dealing with my own silent battles with my sexual orientation, there was no other culture of people in my school or in my hometown off of whom to bounce this idea of self-discovery. I did not hear about his life or his death until almost a decade later. By then I was member of the Front Runners, a gay running group that had membership in all of the major cities nationwide. As the gay pride parade in New York City would move up, we would sprint a half-block and stop, as onlookers would cheer. We would start at Columbus Circle and then end up in the Village. I marched – but did not run – in Philly’s parades, as well, which were still outrageous and fun! 😛

On the first day of high school, I did, however, connect immediately with a classmate named Joey. I walked into the music room where he was playing the piano and singing an Elton John song. He was an extremely talented musician, and he was as passionate about Barbra Streisand as I was about Judy Garland. On Saturdays, we would take the train into Harvard Square and spend hours at the Harvard Coop, finding excellent records at Strawberries. We would then enjoy a drink at the juice bar across the street. Joey and I were kindred spirits in an academic and social pressure cooker where we found within our time spent together great acceptance and great joy. We made our commitment to our art first and foremost before academic requirements.

One of our most memorable adventures was a bus trip to New York City, during which we saw the musical, The Act, featuring Liza Minnelli. We were somewhat disappointed, as her appearances in the show seemed to be few and far between, as opposed to those of dozens of male acrobats.

I last saw Joey in LA, and hope that he is alive and well.

On the one hand, I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a generation that was part of the gay civil rights revolution, and had as much support as we did, even with the devastating outbreak of AIDS. But still, in viewing Milk, I couldn’t believe that he as a civic leader, as well as his movement, were not a part of my consciousness in the height of my adolescence. For this, I feel very sad, but his spirit is still very much alive today, and has given me a renewed sense of pride and self-acceptance in an era where sexual orientation (among other normal human differences) is still such a bone of contention.

During the movie, Harvey Milk was portrayed as asking his audience at the beginning of a speaking engagement, “can I recruit you?” Yes, Harvey, you can. Thank you.