In 2008, when San Diego State Alum Patricia Loughrey began developing Dear Harvey with SDSU undergraduate Thomas Hodges, many people had never heard of Harvey Milk. Important gay and lesbian figures are rarely mentioned among the great leaders and civil rights activists children learn about in school. As the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, Harvey Milk gave hope to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer community that they could live their lives openly and with pride. By bringing together diverse community members, Harvey successfully fought discrimination and improved his city during his eleven months in office. Dear Harvey is a story of an American hero, told through the words of people whose lives he continues to inspire.
In the 1970s, gays and lesbians won important battles in the fight for equal rights; it seemed the movement was gaining momentum. Harvey Milk was sworn in as a city supervisor, gay rights ordinances were passed in several cities, including the ordinance signed in San Francisco by Mayor George Moscone, and Proposition 6, a proposal to terminate the employment of all gay and lesbian teachers in California, was defeated. The assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone on November 27, 1978, devastated the LGBTQ community. Not only had they lost two great leaders, but many felt that their deaths represented the symbolic death of the gay rights movement.
Over the last 30 years, due in no small part to the work of dedicated activists, the United States has become a better place to live for members of the LGBTQ community. However, there continue to be setbacks, such as the passage of Proposition 8 last November. Instead of feeling discouraged, Harvey Milk often saw the positive side of such situations. For example, he saw Proposition 6 as a catalyst to energize and motivate the gay community to fight for change. Harvey believed that progress would be made through dialogue – his televised debates with John Briggs likely changed many minds. He would have seen Proposition 8 as both a motivator for action and an opportunity for education.
If Harvey were here today, his message of hope would be the same. He would encourage all of us to come out, not only gays and lesbians to their families, friends, and coworkers, but everyone else as friends, family, and supporters of the LGBTQ community.
Dear Harvey is a celebration of the life of Harvey Milk, the contributions of LGBTQ leaders, and the continuation of the fight for equal rights for all. In the words of Patricia Loughrey, "Dear Harvey is not a story that was – it is a story that is."
By Lauren Beck, Tawnya Pataky, and Derek Smith