Monday, June 22, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Mayor of Castro Street

Not only does Randy Shilts’ biography of Harvey Milk shed light on all aspects of his life, but also reveals miniscule encounters and facts that combined, create a beautiful, well-crafted story.
Though widely classified as a biography, there is a lot more to be found in this epic battle for civil rights. This book does not read like other biographies. There is something about the style that brings you into a wonderfully poetic and elaborate story of good and evil. Maybe it’s the incredibly detailed and well-researched complexity of city politics, which gives intention to Harvey's decisions and political style, or maybe it’s the heart breaking severity of Milk’s struggle to make a difference in the world. Either way, there is something in this book for every reader.
There is another reason why many readers who tend to steer away from biographical works should invest some time in Mayor of Castro Street. Mr. Shilts includes events, in his book,that took place far before and after Milk’s life, which ultimately opens the view of homosexuality’s place in our society over the past two hundred years.
While this book is one of the most famous pieces of non-fiction gay literature, it is also one of the most debated. Many gay historical figures (even some that happen to be depicted in the book, including Cleve Jones) disagree with many statements made in Shilts’ book, as well as actions made within the author’s personal life.
Though many do disagree, most scholars and historians will testify to Mayor of Castro Street being the most accurate and detailed account of modern gay history.

Upcoming Events

Attention Cast: Three events are coming up that you may want to attend!

JUNE 23: S.A.M.E. (San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality) is hosting an Activist Town Hall Forum titled: 'Where Do We Go From Here In The LGBTQIQAA Activist Movement?' at The LGBT Center - 3909 Centre St.
from 6:30PM - 9:00PM. The Key Note Speakers will be ROBIN TYLER (a character in Dear Harvey played by Crystal Brandon) and DIANE OLSON. Dear Harvey will have a table set up to distribute information about the show.

From 11:00 AM to noon, San Diego State University students, faculty and staff will join local politicians, business leaders and other members of the community in hosting a Rainbow Flag Raising Ceremony on campus in support of SDSU's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, staff, faculty and community. We will be handing out Dear Harvey flyers, encouraging people to come to the show.

JULY 18:
The cast of Dear Harvey has been invited to march in the San Diego Gay Pride Parade with the SDSU LGBT community. We will be handing out business cards and carrying signs in the parade and participating at the Diversionary booth to promote the play.

All cast members are encouraged to attend any of these events. Please contact Producer Jay Sheehan at or Dramaturg Lauren Beck at for more information.

See you there!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Free Speech scores a point!

Natalie Jones, the Ramona 6th grader who was barred by her school from giving a presentation about Harvey Milk, was allowed to present today to her class! The school claimed that they were "overly cautious" after the ACLU threatened to take action. Read the whole story here.

Giving a presentation about a gay person is not the same is giving a presentation about SEX.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thirsty for Milk after some Twinkies?.....

Twinkie Defense.

What is it? Thirty years ago anyone in California would be able to answer that question without thinking, but now society's knowledge on Harvey Milk's death is minimized to what is fed through the film MILK. Here is an article describing what specifically the Twinkie Defense is and why such an absurdly titled event led to the production of violence now referred to as the 'White Night Riots'.

Myth of the 'Twinkie defense' (as written by Carol Pogash of the San Francisco Cronicle, November 23, 2003) :

Ask anyone who's heard of Dan White -- and there are fewer and fewer people who have -- how it was that the clean-cut, conservative San Francisco supervisor received such a light sentence in the shooting deaths of progressive San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk 25 years ago, and it brings an automatic response: the "Twinkie defense." The impressionable jury, they'll say, swallowed the defense contention that Dan White gobbled Twinkies, which blasted sugar through his arteries and drove him into a murderous frenzy. About as simple as: "Eat a Twinkie, commit a murder."

As Thursday's 25th anniversary of the killings approaches, what survives is a shared understanding of the gross miscarriage of justice: that an angry young man many thought should have received the death penalty instead was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and got a meager sentence of less than eight years (with time off for good behavior, he would end up serving only five years, one month and nine days).

The "Twinkie defense" is so ingrained in our culture that it appears in law dictionaries, in sociology textbooks, in college exams and in more than 2, 800 references on Google. Only a few of them call it what it is: a myth.

"I don't think Twinkies were ever mentioned in testimony," said chief defense attorney Douglas Schmidt, who recalls "HoHos and Ding Dongs," but no Twinkies. In fact, the cream-filled confections were mentioned, but only in passing. Junk food was an insignificant part of the defense. The matter was raised briefly in testimony by Marin psychiatrist Martin Blinder, one of five defense therapists. Today, the entire episode is characterized by Schmidt as "a throwaway witness . . . with a throwaway line.''

The main focus of the defense's case in May 1979 was diminished capacity -- that White had suffered from periodic bouts of depression, amounting to "a major mental illness." That, along with "the machinations of dirty politics at City Hall," White's co-counsel Stephen Scherr said in a recent interview, "drove him 'round the bend."

During his day on the stand, Blinder, a former mayor of San Anselmo and a onetime teacher at UCSF's medical school and at Hastings College of the Law, characterized White as his family's black sheep, a man with rigid values and locked-up emotions. In a recent interview, Blinder said his intent was to explore, "What is it that makes a good man kill?"

In his daylong accounting of how White's life "unraveled," one small aspect of something Blinder said -- "two minutes of a greater part of the day on the stand" -- was later turned into the irrational explanation for everything that came after. "Studies show," he said recently, "that if you have a general predisposition to bipolar mood swings, things you ingest can play a part." In the days leading up to the killings, the psychiatrist told the jury, White cast aside his normal habits and grew slovenly, quit working, shunned his wife, grew a stubble beard and rather than eat his healthful diet, indulged in Twinkies and Coke -- all symptoms, Blinder testified, of depression. The junk food, he said, only made White more depressed, which caused him to binge even more.

A 1979 San Francisco Examiner story on the anatomy of the White defense, written by Jim Wood, my late husband, cited the makeup of the conservative, mostly female jury, many with children the age of defendant (there were no gays and no African Americans). Wood pointed out that the defense had not challenged the facts, but had put on a psychiatric defense for the former cop and firefighter. White, the defense claimed, had acted in the heat of passion, not out of malice. In his depressive state, he had "snapped."

The gay community's agony spewed out onto the streets of San Francisco. During what came to be called the White Night riot, protestors set fire to police cars and stormed City Hall. The violence was in marked contrast to the day Moscone and Milk died. Then, a candlelight march flowed quietly and peacefully from the Castro district to City Hall.

All that many people remember about the case that still engenders such anger and passion is that jurors succumbed to the defense claim that a politician ate Twinkies and then executed the mayor and a fellow supervisor.

"America loves labels," said Dr. Alan Dundes, UC Berkeley professor of anthropology and folklore. He compares our belief in the "Twinkie defense" to the conviction that George Washington cut down the cherry tree. He didn't. Folklore trumps history.

"I don't care if the 'Twinkie defense' has any validity or not," he said. "People think it was a factor. And thinking makes it so."