On Sunday, May 22, California will once again celebrate Harvey Milk Day. Blogger Michael Petrelis opines that one major gay rights group is doing a lousy job of educating the general public about the former San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated in 1978.

That got us thinking about The Mayor of Castro Street, the wonderful, 1982 biography about Milk by the late great journalist Randy Shilts.

Here are some excerpts…

“Congratulations poured in from around the country after the election,” writes Shilts about the days after Milk, in 1977, became the first openly gay man in the United States to be elected in a major city. “'Thanks to you that kid in Des Moines just brought a ticket for San Francisco,' teased one friend. 'Supe at last, Supe at last, thank God Almighty, supe at last,' wrote another.

“A sixty-eight-year-old lesbian who had been a San Francisco schoolteacher since 1932 wrote poignantly, 'I thank God I lived long enough to see my kind emerge from the shadows and join the human race.' Her one regret was that she didn't live in District 5 to savor the victory as a constituent.

“Days later, Harvey added the finishing touches to his hope speech when he emerged with a vaguely apocryphal tale of a sixteen-year-old boy from Altoona, Pennsylvania, who called to thank Harvey for giving him hope that he could make something of his life. No more talk of Dayton or Des Moines. For the rest of his career, Milk's hope speech talked of a sixteen-year-old boy from Altoona, Pennsylvania.”

Shilts adds Milk's “Hope Speech” at the end of the biography, which includes these lines:

“And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.

“Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward.

“It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly