“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.” For those of us who have watched the biographical film Milk, those are immortal words. Harvey united a generation of Americans and made massive leaps in securing LGBTQ+ acceptance. Forty years on from his assassination, his nephew is continuing his work on a global scale.
Stuart Milk came to Bath on 21st February, as part of UK’s LGBT History Month celebrations. We joined other groups and individuals on a cold winter evening to hear him talk about the Harvey Milk Foundation, and everything he had done before.
Stuart’s work has taken him across the world – the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia – in fact the only continent he hasn’t visited yet in Antarctica (cue his joke about gay penguins). When Harvey was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama, Stuart collected the award. After conversations with people including the president, Stuart founded the Harvey Milk Foundation in 2009 with Harvey’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg. Through the foundation, Stuart and his team have supported Pride marches in countries where there was a lot of backlash, and continue to speak about everything Harvey did for the LGBTQ+ community.
In a room with so many of the area’s advocates, we all felt honoured to be in the presence of a man whose own advocacy started after his uncle was killed. A year after Harvey’s death, Stuart had just come out and was asked to speak at a memorial event in Washington DC. As he arrived, he realised that he was among the small handful of people who had come to remember Harvey; but there were busloads of protesters who immediately noticed the family resemblance. Stuart described feeling someone take his hand and looking up to see a large black woman. His hand was trapped in hers, and he couldn’t move and he was scared that this stranger would throw him to the wolves, but instead she turned to the crowds and said, “My name is Dr Maya Angelou. I am gay. I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Native American. I am human!” The hordes of protesters put down their signs, got back on their buses, and drove away.
The most moving story of the night was about a young gay man, Milán Rósza. After years of violent protests at the Pride march in Budapest, Stuart and the Milk Foundation were called to attend and show their support. Though Stuart was initially asked to lead the march, Milk realised that the role should be undertaken by a local. This is when he met Rósza. The young Hungarian was a big fan of Harvey, and agreed to lead the march, his face becoming the one posted on television, taking all the criticism.
Rósza’s actions did not finish with the march. In a city with so many minority groups, it was each man for his own until Rósza stepped in. The afterparty was due to be held at the city’s post popular gay club, but it had a no Roma rule. Rósza took himself as leader and organised a boycott. He demonstrated strength in collaboration, and an undying compassion, which led to him being dubbed “Hungary’s Harvey Milk”.
The message of togetherness, of coming together not just as LGBT individuals, not just as a minority group, but as humans working for humanity, is something we shall keep with us for a long time to come. As he finished his talk, Stuart left us with some words of Harvey’s that we’d like to pass on to you, too:
“Hope will never be silent.”