Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 21 / 25 May 2017
 

Defending Harvey against his devotees

Guest Opinion


Jun Yang's painting of Harvey Milk is part of the Castro Merchants' Windows for Harvey on display in the Castro. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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As George Orwell remarked, saints should always be judged guilty before proved innocent. This May, the Castro blossoms with the latest shrines people of this time might lay on Harvey Milk: dressed-up window displays of so-so art, a gathering of nudists surrounded by photographers, clipboard commandos wanting to talk about whales, pretty people fighting in the bars, and ugly people taking walking tours. Meanwhile, the forces of what I call Harvey Inc. troll the phrase "come out." A monument is a thing without purpose – something you stumble upon and encounter a message from another generation saying, "This was important." The act of window dressing is about us: giving us validation amidst our own delayed social development. These are the concerns of our time, and for us Harvey Inc. becomes what we want it to be, always answering with the necklaced knickknack, What Would Harvey Do?

But What Would Harvey Do? Would the Truman Democrat so engaged in fixing potholes and cleaning up after dogs be enamored with our newfound tolerance of street people wallowing around in their own excrement in the name of independent living? Perhaps the privilege of civil confinement in an intervention meant only for Britney Spears. Would Milk be troubled to see the gay community boo their mayor off stage when their mayor made an effort to show solidarity after a man gunned down 49 individuals because they were trying to be happy in violation of his chosen protected religious identity? As gay conservative (and therefore pariah) Andrew Sullivan noted, the gay community has yet to learn the word magnanimity.

At least the mayor tried where others failed. The crime of Ronald Reagan was not that he ignored a health crisis; it was that he was gifted with a unique rhetorical talent and called to a historical position of leadership but chose to withhold his comfort when it was the only treatment available. The forces of Harvey Inc. prefer the Kool-Aid. The gay community's own Mark Leno gave a scathing and deserved indictment of Reagan at his memorial in the state Legislature, yet the same supermajority silenced a similar effort to give an alternative view of Tom Hayden when delivered by state Senator Janet Nguyen speaking for her constituency of killing field refugees. We have become the bullies.

And speaking of Operation Babylift, the forces of Harvey Inc. forget he opposed it, joining our (current) governor in protesting at Travis Air Force Base because refugee babies would take away jobs from Californians. Also allied with these forces was the flawed saint Cesar Chavez, whose supporters would go down to the border and beat migrants up. (According to Wikipedia, Chavez himself was not involved.) Psychologists state moral outrage is almost always self-serving, and the essence of subversion is getting others to work against their own self-interests. To recall Sullivan's comments about President Donald Trump, "America has never been so ripe for demagoguery." The only difference is Harvey Inc. serves Flavor Aid. WWHD about pharmaceutical companies buying the silence of HIV activists so they do not protest the pricing of hepatitis C drugs? WWHD about environmental laws blocking urban infill development, forcing young people to drive epic commutes?

We know What Harvey Would Do if a sex offender clinic threatened to open in his neighborhood at Church and Duboce – betray his friend and make sure it opened in Portola. We know WHWD to community members such as Oliver Sipple, throwing them under the bus if it suited his purpose. We know WHWD to improve housing conditions in Yerba Buena and whom he would like to see on the Housing Authority. And we also know what we would do in our desperation to find a saint: create a citizen's oversight committee of the police department that, 40 years later on the right side of history, still can't get things right.

And sadly, those who embraced Milk's message to "come out," such as trans member of the San Diego Police Department Christine Garcia, find themselves blocked from community celebrations they helped organize to taunts of "We don't want a pig in here." When the local press focuses on a border wall but says nothing about a September 2016 100,000-strong anti-gay march in Tijuana, there is a chilling effect of questioning immigration policy. When gay Swedish Iranian refugee Ardeshir Bibakabadi proposed a Muslim-led pride march through a Goteberg ghetto to uplift the spirits of closeted gays who feared their own families, it was denounced as "neo-Nazi" by white gay activists long before it attracted the attention of Milo Yiannopoulos. And speaking of Yiannopoulos, I guess he's not one of the good ones – he should be disowned – and there's no better way to ignite a heckler's veto than to invoke the uber-gay Barbra Streisand effect.

Milk was elected because he was the conservative candidate – "I'm just a businessman who happens to be gay" (one of the good ones), against a noxious member of the gay establishment. If I bring up his skeletons, it comes with the scuzzbucket territory of career politicians. Milk's message is the message that works; after all, Dick Cheney embraced gay marriage years before Hillary Clinton. Community leaders, obsessed with being right rather than doing right, too often demand a party-line orthodoxy to the point of policing pronouns in their safe spaces. Who wants to come out if it means being perceived as one of them? Harvey Inc.'s window dressing is the attention-seeking of cronied victim culture, turning gay pride to gay shame.

Thomas Busse is a former classical music critic turned accountant who just happens to be gay. He has lived in San Francisco since 1998 and did not vote for Trump.






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