The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
“My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!” This was an opening line the gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk often used to grab people’s attention. See, in the 1970s when Harvey was organizing for gay rights, the common misconception peddled by the media, religious organizations, and homophobes — and consumed by the general public — was that homosexuals wanted to recruit you and/or your children to join the ranks of the queers. The logic was that there was a small number of LGBTQ people, so in order to “survive” they needed to recruit — rather than, you know, being born that way. Many politicians, preachers, and pretty faces peddled the nonsense that LGBTQ folks — particularly gay teachers — were out to recruit children. While this was not the case, there were no organizations or prominent LGBTQ people to publicly fight back.
Oppressive powers thrive on fatigue and apathy. We need you to be active!
But Harvey was there to recruit you for the fight! Before he was a politician, he was a small business owner and community organizer. He knew what it was like to live in San Francisco’s Castro District, and he knew how his neighborhood and community had been ignored by those in power. By recruiting folks who wanted to see change at City Hall, who understood the gay community’s intersection of identities, and who would show up to rallies and meetings, Harvey was creating change that would ripple through communities for decades.
Forty years ago, in 1977, Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay candidates voted into elected office when his constituents selected him to fill a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Harvey felt the impact of his candidacy — and win — far and wide, and advocated, not as a politician, but as a marginalized person, for other LGBTQ people to come out. Come out to your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and lawmakers.
Sharing one’s authentic self with other folks can be a terrifying journey, not to be taken lightly. But Harvey knew it would be harder to pass and implement hateful laws and discriminatory policies if decision makers and their constituents knew an LGBTQ person. In 1985, less than 25 percent of Americans polled reported knowing an LGBTQ person. By 2013, polls showed 87 percent of Americans knew a gay or lesbian person, and nearly half had a close family member or friend who was gay or lesbian. This shows more than anything that the power to change hearts and minds about social issues is not always through data or science or reason — it’s through emotion, connection, and storytelling.
Harvey Milk was just 48 years old when a former city supervisor assassinated him, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. While his life was cut short, his legacy thrives to this day. Just two weeks ago, on May 22, he would have turned 87 years old — a day that is now known as Harvey Milk Day, a time to celebrate his achievements and let his words continue to inspire us. As we head into the month of June — aka Pride Month — memories of Harvey Milk and others like him will fuel the work that lies before us.
We’ve come a long way since Harvey was standing on the streets of the Castro leading marches to the steps of City Hall. Today, millions of LGBTQ people are able to live open, authentic lives with pride — but others are forced into the shadows because of harassment, imprisonment, violence, and death. The support of allies, members of majority populations, and populations of privilege is critical to achieving any lasting change and enacting humane policies. The LGBTQ community continues to fight imprisonment, discrimination, invisibility, violence, and ignorance with education, grit, and the knowledge that one day we’ll all make it to the Promised Land.
Planned Parenthood has been a target for more than 100 years because we offer access and nonjudgmental care to everyone, including marginalized communities. HIV patients in the 1980s and 1990s would come to Planned Parenthood for their care because, in many communities, no other doctors would touch or treat them. Immigrant and undocumented women seek health care and education at Planned Parenthood because there are laws that limit (or eliminate) support to immigrant families. LGBTQ folks are able to receive medically accurate and inclusive health and sex education at Planned Parenthood because, like Russia, Arizona state law prohibits the “promotion of homosexuality.” Planned Parenthood has been there and will continue to be there. These doors stay open.
At Planned Parenthood, we see the fight for LGBTQ rights and the fight for reproductive rights as two parts of the same struggle — the human imperative to live our lives with dignity, autonomy, and love. And, despite all the progress we’ve made over the last 40 years, today’s political climate still represents a danger to those values. Harvey’s creative use of “recruiting” people to his cause highlights our present moment here at Planned Parenthood: We need your help in this work. We need you to fight the myths that are perpetuated in Twitter feeds and Facebook comments. We need you to amplify the message to lawmakers that abortion is health care and to keep their hands off health care! We need you to be active in the Resistance because we know power thrives on fatigue and apathy and there’s too much at stake.
We’re Planned Parenthood and we’re here to recruit you! Over the next 17 months leading up to the 2018 election, we need supporters willing to go door-to-door talking to folks about what’s at stake, to make phone calls to voters about making sure the right folks are elected to office; and we need folks who care about marginalized communities, health care, and democracy to show up, speak out, and spread the word. For more information on connecting with an organizer in your area, please send us a quick note!