“It would be boyish-looking men in their late teens and early twenties that Milk would be attracted to for the rest of his life,” wrote Milk biographer Randy Shilts in his book, “The Mayor of Castro Street.” However, like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi and every other nonviolent revolutionary in history, Milk is celebrated because of the social movement he represented, not his personal life.
“I stood for more than just a candidate,” Milk said on that fateful audio tape. “I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement. … I’ve considered the movement the candidate.”
MLK was alleged to have been an adulterer. “Many movement activists were aware of [King’s] various sexual involvements with a number of different women,” wrote David J. Garrow in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Bearing the Cross.” Ghandi was no saint. Among other things, his writings reveal him to be more than a little racist against blacks. Despite their private shortcomings, King led the fight to overturn Jim Crow, and Ghandi is rightfully known as the Father of India.
Similarly, Milk was a flawed human being occupying a significant role. He didn’t elect himself. His name will ring throughout history because of those who put him in office. It was up to them all along. Milk knew every LGBT American living honestly was the lone path to equality.
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” said Milk into his recorder that November day. “I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anyone could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.”
The legacy of Milk’s short political career far outlasted the 323 days he was actually in office because of those he inspired. Milk ended his last recorded testament with what might as well have been his statement of purpose: “You gotta give them hope.”
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.