By Alex Kasriel
February 9, 2009
Make an effort to go and see Milk at the cinema if you have not already done so.
Gus Van Sant's film about the first openly gay elected official in the US, starring an almost unrecognisable Sean Penn (pictured), is a real eye opener - as well as being very well made (the 70s gay fashion is fabulous as is the disco soundtrack).
The timely release charts the progress of the charismatic, openly gay, Harvey Milk and his hard-won rise to power as a San Francisco supervisor (equivalent to a back bencher) in 1977. It seems incredible that homophobia was so embedded in the fabric of society so recently.
People really thought that openly gay people should not be active in public life. Politicians even tried to pass a bill that would not allow them to be teachers - in case they were child abusers. Meanwhile gay people congregating in their neighbourhood hang-out of Castro were asked to move on by police and their shops were boycotted.
Thankfully these days, it is more likely that you will get elected BECAUSE you are part of a minority group. Just witness Barack Obama's success.
Now and then, what Barack Obama and Harvey Milk both possess - that seems to allude many white heterosexual middle class politicians - is sex appeal. Watching the film (and footage of the real Harvey Milk included in the film at the end) made me wish that I was gay man living in San Francisco in the '70s.
The protests and demonstrations in the streets were spontaneous parties to rival (and were forerunners to) Berlin's Love Parade. Milk's campaign team was made up of nubile young men in flares and a right-on lesbian.
The politician celebrates his campaign victory with a party at which the falsetto-singing, black, transvestite Sylvester (who would go on to make the international disco hit You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), the following year) was hanging out. He didn't even mind being interviewed on national TV with her by his side.
It just goes to show that often being the rank outsider, always gets votes, at least in the sex appeal stakes.