michael j. morris

22 December, 2008, 12:54 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , ,

I saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk a couple of days ago, and I think I am only now able to append language to my experience. First, in short, I recommend it. Not only do I see it as an important historical depiction, but the relevant dialogue it raises with the times in which we now live was staggering.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It gave me some measure of hope, even though the story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy. It gave me hope because it reminded me that things do change, things have changed in some parts of this country. Some of the battles that were being fought during the 1970s have been won, and it gives me hope that given time the battles in which we now find ourselves (same culture war, different battles) will too be won. It is [hopefully] only a matter of time before our society/culture stops passing legislation that is based on our differences and instead builds a society that honors our commonalities. That is my hope.

It made me angry. Some of the arguments that opponents to equal rights raised during the 1970s are still being raised today. And they are absurd. Arguments such as homosexuality is a threat to the family unit, the core of society. First, just because I am homosexual does not mean I think everyone is/should be/will be. I respect and honor families that are respectable and honorable (as in, rooted in love for one another), regardless of the gender or sexuality of the parents. The more offensive layer of this argument is that it assumes that because we are homosexual, we do not want or cannot have families. It says that our families are not real, or worse, that they are threatening. It says that because two men cannot procreate with one another, they cannot and should not be able to marry, to love and raise children, to be a family. 
It would be exhausting and frankly frustrating to list and rebuttal every hateful and fallacious argument that was represented in the film and continues to be active in our society today. And I assume that generally my readership are not those who need to be convinced. All of this simply to say that the conservative right defended and advanced their position with assumptions, misapprehensions, hate, and lies then and they continue to do so now. It angers me that this is the case, and that those same arguments are still holding weight with individuals in our country/culture today.

It saddened me. Because the movement that started in California in the 1970s is still being challenged in California today, and I regret to say that it has still barely begun in other places. I have lived in three states at this point (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio). All three have banned same-sex marriage in their constitutions. In the 1970s in California, they won the battle over professional discrimination based on sexuality. At my undergraduate college, Belhaven College, openly homosexual professors will not be hired, and if ever a professor already on faculty came out as homosexual (which to my knowledge has never happened) they would be fired, because Belhaven presents itself as a Christian institution, and homosexuality is a sin in their world. It saddens me to realize that battles that have been won almost thirty years ago in parts of our country have yet to begin in other parts, the parts I have called home.

These are just some of my reactions. They compel me to action, although I have yet to recognize what form that action will take, beyond simply continuing to be who I am, to be out and about, to do what I do, and by being open about my homosexuality and my perspectives hopefully change the way our society views us.

I urge you to go see Milk as supporting films like this is an important statement in supporting the causes, the lives, and rights it represents. When these stories are told and there is no one there to listen, it is far easier for a society to continue to believe that we aren’t here, that those stories don’t matter, and things are just fine. We are here, those stories do matter, and things are not fine. Supporting this film is just a small way of making that statement.


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