Today, Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger signed legislation creating “Harvey Milk Day.” As most people know, Milk was the openly-homosexual San Francisco Supervisor who was murdered by fellow Supervisor Dan White in 1978. This commemoration is opposed by a large majority of Californians. A March 3, 2009 Survey USA poll asked Californians “Whether Harvey Milk’s birthday should, or should not, be recognized state wide as a ‘day of significance.’” The response was 69% “no“, 19% “yes“, and 11% “undecided“.
There are a number of reasons why the commemoration is a terrible idea.
San Franciscans of the Harvey Milk era (like me) will remember Supervisor Milk as a vocal supporter of community organizer Jim Jones, leader of the “People’s Temple.” This support is extensively documented. In 1994, Mary R. Sawyer, associate professor of Religious Studies and African American Studies at Iowa State University, who herself had connections with what she called the “vibrant social justice movement,” wrote:
“Among the progressive politicians, black and white, who left mass meetings at the Temple inspired and rejuvenated was San Francisco gay rights leader and board of supervisor member Harvey Milk who, along with Mayor George Moscone, would himself fall to an assassin's bullet a scant ten (sic) days after the Jonestown holocaust. Wrote Milk, following one such visit: ‘Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.’"
Even more disturbing is the fact that Milk had indications of the true nature of the People’s Temple, yet refused to act on that knowledge, for purely political reasons. The following is from Wikipedia. Bracketed numbers are Wikipedia's footnotes to the orginal sources.
"While the Temple aided some local politicians, it did not do so entirely without suspicion. For example, Harvey Milk felt that Temple members were odd and dangerous. When a Milk aide became wary of the Temple's large and imposing security force following a delivery of election pamphlets, Milk cautioned the aide 'Make sure you're always nice to the Peoples Temple. If they ask you to do something, do it, and then send them a note thanking them for asking you to do it. They're weird and they're dangerous, and you never want to be on their bad side.' Jim Rivaldo, a political consultant and associate of Milk's said that, after later meetings at the Temple, he and Milk agreed that 'there was something creepy about it.'"...
But that sense of "weirdness and danger" did not prevent Harvey from collaborating with the People's Temple when there was something in it for him:
"In a hand-written note, Milk wrote to Jones 'my name is cut into stone in support of you - and your people.' Jim Rivaldo, who attended Temple meetings with Milk , explained that, until Jonestown, the church 'was a community of people who appeared to be looking out for each other, improving their lives.' Boyle explained that it was vital for both his campaign and Milk's that they be received well at the Temple 'because Jones was not only Moscone's appointed head of the Housing Authority but also could turn out an army of volunteers.' "
Milk, (or Mayor Moscone for that matter) never had to answer for their support of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple because they were both murdered by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White nine days after the Jonestown holocaust, which claimed 918 lives.
I’d imagine that even respectable same-sex attracted Californians would have preferred a different candidate.
Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney