It's Harvey time

The brink of Pride weekend is a good time to share The Times of Harvey Milk (1982), a documentary about San Francisco’s first openly gay man elected to public office.

After several attempts, Milk was elected to the city's Board of Supervisors in 1977. He and SF mayor, George Mascone, were assassinated a little more than a year later.

This Oscar-winning documentary preceded the Gus Van Sant drama, Milk, by 26 years. For those not familiar with California politics of the late 1970s (like me), these two films can act as a primer on Proposition 6, the 1978 initiative that intended to ban gays, lesbians, and their supporters from working in California's public schools. Watching Life and Milk, I couldn't help but compare the defeat of Proposition 6 in 1978 to the passage Proposition 8 in 2008. (Prop. 8 narrowed the definition of marriage to different-sex couples.)

The public debate on Prop 6 included long-form, televised debates; the Prop 8 race lacked such discussions and was dominated by political TV ads. Further, there wasn't a readily identifiable spokesperson, such as Milk, representing the cause of same-sex couples during the Prop 8 campaign. How much these factors influenced the respective outcomes, it's hard to say, but the differences stood out to me.

From Gallop, June 18, 2008

Gallup polling chronicles important changes in public attitudes about homosexuality and gay rights over the past quarter century. Americans have shifted from frowning on homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle and being divided over whether it should be legal, to now supporting gay rights on both fronts. At the same time, the country remains highly ambivalent about the morality of homosexual relations, and as a result, support for legalizing gay marriage lags far behind the less culturally sensitive matter of gays having equal job rights.

Kathy Kozachenko's election to the Ann Arbor city council made her the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to run successfully for political office in the United States (January 1974).

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