Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

What can we learn from the gay rights struggle of the 1970s? Don’t give up the fight!

What have we learned in the past 33 years? Apparently not much in the brotherly love category. Far too many of us are easily manipulated by hatred and fear ginned up by right-wingers and Christian zealots.

Last night I watched Milk, the 2008 movie about activist Harvey Milk (above), the first openly gay man to hold a major elected office, a position on the County Board of Supervisors.

Watching an inspiring movie like this one two years after the will-it-get-an-Oscar? hoopla allows the viewer to concentrate on the story and the multiple parallels between 1978 and 2010.

Being a woman … ahem… of a certain age, I was a happenin’ young 20-something in 1978 and remember well the multiple movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but I had forgotten Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual crusade.

A pop-singer-turned-Evangelist, Bryant led a campaign to overturn a Dade County, Florida law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After that law was overturned, she made appearances in several states to help them repeal similar anti-discrimination laws nationwide. (Sounds familiar, huh? Using religion and fear of the other to divide the populace.)

Running parallel with Bryant’s anti-gay efforts were Milk’s gay rights efforts in San Francisco. The movie depicts Milk debating and tirelessly fighting a California legislator who backs Proposition 6, a measure that would have barred gays from teaching in California schools and would allow schools to fire gay teachers.

The parallels between the anti-gay fervor of the 1970s and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim fervor being promoted today by Republicans and Tea Baggers were striking. Fear, religiosity, and preservation of family and “American values” were used to paint gays as outsiders– just as these right-wing strategies are used today to paint immigrants and Muslims as dangerous outsiders and justify discrimination.

California’s Prop 6 (which eventually failed) even had witch-hunt tactics like SB1070. One of the proponents of Prop 6 says that they have “procedures to identify who’s a homosexual”. His statement so reminded me of Governor Jan Brewer’s reassurances that Arizona’s law enforcement officials can spot illegal immigrants but then she couldn’t say exactly how.

Milk’s speeches toward the end of the movie– and the end of his life, since he was assassinated in 1978– were stirring.

“I want to recruit you to further the fight to preserve democracy,” he says.

Referring to “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence and “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free” on the Statue of Liberty, Milk says, “No matter how hard they try, they can’t erase those words from the Declaration of Independence. No matter how hard they try, they can’t chip those words from the Statue of Liberty.”

What can we learn from Harvey Milk? The struggle continues. Keep fighting. Vote!


This entry was posted on September 8, 2010 by in 2010 elections, Arizona, equality, Immigration, Republicans, SB 1070.
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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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