In the times of Harvey Milk

  • by Kimberly Alvarenga and Carolina Morales
  • Wednesday May 17, 2017
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Kimberly Alvarenga, left, and Carolina Morales. Photo:<br>Rick Gerharter
Kimberly Alvarenga, left, and Carolina Morales. Photo:
Rick Gerharter

The spirited, populist, brashly progressive approach that Harvey Milk took in the 1970s continues to inspire our LGBT community in San Francisco, and beyond. Milk took to the bullhorn and organized us to fight back against discrimination, but what was unique about Milk was that he was committed to and built a greater unity and solidarity amongst our vast rainbow of people, communities, and movements in San Francisco.

Milk built coalitions with women, labor, immigrants, people of color, seniors, and the disabled. This potent local coalition he helped to build made our city better, stronger, and more accessible to everyday people. His work even set the stage for state and national LGBT political resistance that led to the defeat of a state initiative called Proposition 6 that would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California's public schools.

Milk's local organizing had also impressed labor activists, and the Teamsters approached him to broker a historic partnership and coalition against Coors for discriminating against gay truck drivers and union members in hiring. Gay bars boycotted Coors and the Teamsters fought for the rights of gay truck drivers.  

Everyday people got involved in these broad-based, populist strategic efforts and they made history that are the subject of books, TV shows, and documentaries. Yet, right now we need this very same bold strategy more than ever. Donald Trump's agenda is a war on LGBT people, people of color, and marginalized communities. Trump made appointments of white nationalists, anti-immigrant, anti-worker, sexist, climate denying crusaders to the highest positions of power and continues to try and build walls, not bridges. With these heightened attacks on marginalized communities, like on our very own transgender children, we need to build greater unity like Milk did – alliances with Muslims, unions, environmentalists, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, and seniors.

We need a broad united front that organizes based on a populist agenda, but doesn't silence more marginalized groups. Black and Puerto Rican trans women were who really started the Stonewall riots, and still all these decades later, they have to fight for a seat at the table in our own community. As we organize the resistance, we need to rebuild our sanctuary cities that will protect immigrants and refugees, as well as our LGBT communities.

We must seize this moment and shake our own community out of its complacency around sexism, racism, ableism, and anti-trans sentiments. Milk reminds us that "It takes no compromise to give people their rights ... it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression."

Join us as we honor Milk's life and legacy Monday, May 22 in the Castro. The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club invites all community members to enjoy two special screenings of "The Times of Harvey Milk" for Milk's 87th birthday at the Castro Theatre, showings at noon and 6 p.m. For more information, please visit us at In Milk's words, "We are here to recruit you."


Kimberly Alvarenga and Carolina Morales are co-presidents of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. For more on this and other Milk Day activities, see the News Briefs column.