Monday, January 5, 2009

Milk - the Past, and the Future

I started the new year off by seeing "Milk,"the Gus Van Sant film starring Sean Penn, based on the life of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. (Thanks to ENC volunteer, Joe, who took me out to see the movie.) It was a good film, well done and well acted, but I was disappointed.

The movie felt dated. It told an important story of a seminal figure from, and time for, the gay rights movement, but it didn't resonate.

I was a kid when the actual history unfolded, but I definitely remember Anita Bryant, the Twinkie defense, and Milk's assassination.

Watching the movie, I felt like I was watching history, but it was simply history that had passed, not history that was still relevant to today's civil rights struggles. If the movie had come out 15 years or even a decade ago, it would have seemed more significant and made a societal impact, but watching it in 2008 it was simple passe.

(It was the difference between watching the Broadway show, "Rent," when it first came out and was so progressive and timely, and then watching the movie in the early 2000s, when it was simply an old and tired story.)

"Milk" constantly referenced Prop 6, which would have banned gay teachers (and teachers who supported gay rights) from California Schools. Given last year's struggle and loss with CA's Prop 8, which repealed gay marriage in that state, I couldn't help but wish the film had come out a year earlier, before last year's voting.

Still, even with the movie feeling old before its time, we're still fighting the same basic fight. North Carolina still doesn't have a comprehensive antidiscrimination law that protects workers from being fired based on sexual orientation, nor do we have an antibullying law that protects kids in schools from being harassed by homophobic bullying.

"Milk" is a part of the past, and our state's history of homophobia is something that needs to join it there. Times have changed, but our state is lagging behind. This year, 2009, is a great time for all of us to help bring it forward.

AP photo of Harvey Milk

-Shawn Long

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