Harvey Milk, the New Gay MLK?

Peter Wilson
The California State Senate just passed a bill called the Fair Education Act, which bears the same Orwellian relationship to fairness as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea does to democracy. According to Fox News:

[G]ay rights activists in California are moving closer to victory in the classroom, which, under pending legislation, would become "gender sensitive" zones, mandating history lessons about gays and transgender Americans.

If the State Assembly passes the bill, it will add the strength of law to what is perhaps an irreversible trend: transforming history class into an affirmative action program that retroactively rights the wrongs perpetrated by privileged white straight males. In the words of State Sen. Mark Leno, the bill's author, the Fair Education Act "will require that roles and contributions of LGBT Americans, not unlike African-Americans, Mexican Americans, women, and other traditionally overlooked groups, be included in school curriculum."

Since the school day is not infinite, every inclusion in the curriculum requires a subtraction. Thus high schoolers know more about Harriet Tubman than George Washington. Time is allocated to study Malcolm X, but World War II gets passing mention as the event that precipitated Japanese internment camps.

Victim classes require a representative face: black women have Rosa Parks, Mexican Americans have Cesar Chavez, etc. Who then should be the face of LGBT Americans? When I wrack my brain for towering historical figures in the transgender American community, I come up blank. RuPaul? Or is he a transvestite? It's so hard keeping all these categories straight. And why do we need both L and G? Aren't lesbians gay? But I digress. According to the Fox story: "Supporters suggest slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk would be an appropriate choice" for inclusion in the curriculum.

As it happens, last month my eighth grade daughter was assigned to do a paper on Harvey Milk. Like most of us who live outside San Francisco, I was fuzzy about the murder of a politician in 1978, but knowing that Sean Penn played him in the movie was enough to raise my suspicions. My daughter asked for some help finding resources on Milk's life, and I suggested she expand the suggested hagiographic bibliography to things like the devastating account by Daniel Flynn that appeared in City Journal in May 2009. Flynn makes the following points:

--"As a supervisor, Milk sponsored only two laws-predictably, one barring anti-gay discrimination, and, less so, a law forcing dog owners to clean pets' messes from sidewalks." Eleven months on the city council," Flynn writes, "hardly seems the stuff of Hollywood legend."

"Milk was a short-tempered demagogue who cynically invented stories of victimhood to advance his political career," including falsely accusing Anita Bryant of setting off a bomb in front of his camera store. It is suspected that Milk himself set off the bomb to get publicity for his campaign.

--Milk's murderer was not motivated by homophobia.

--Milk was an admirer of Rev. Jim Jones (of Jonestown Kool-Aid-massacre fame). When Jones kidnapped a six-year old boy and brought him to Guyana, Milk wrote a letter to President Carter praising Jones and urging the President not to take action against the People's Temple.

None of these inconvenient facts matter to the proponents of Fair Education. All we need take away from history class is that Milk was a gay martyr slain by the homophobia that dominates American life, just as MLK was slain by omnipresent American racism. And isn't it eerie that the name MILK is so similar to MLK?

The California State Senate just passed a bill called the Fair Education Act, which bears the same Orwellian relationship to fairness as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea does to democracy. According to Fox News:

[G]ay rights activists in California are moving closer to victory in the classroom, which, under pending legislation, would become "gender sensitive" zones, mandating history lessons about gays and transgender Americans.

If the State Assembly passes the bill, it will add the strength of law to what is perhaps an irreversible trend: transforming history class into an affirmative action program that retroactively rights the wrongs perpetrated by privileged white straight males. In the words of State Sen. Mark Leno, the bill's author, the Fair Education Act "will require that roles and contributions of LGBT Americans, not unlike African-Americans, Mexican Americans, women, and other traditionally overlooked groups, be included in school curriculum."

Since the school day is not infinite, every inclusion in the curriculum requires a subtraction. Thus high schoolers know more about Harriet Tubman than George Washington. Time is allocated to study Malcolm X, but World War II gets passing mention as the event that precipitated Japanese internment camps.

Victim classes require a representative face: black women have Rosa Parks, Mexican Americans have Cesar Chavez, etc. Who then should be the face of LGBT Americans? When I wrack my brain for towering historical figures in the transgender American community, I come up blank. RuPaul? Or is he a transvestite? It's so hard keeping all these categories straight. And why do we need both L and G? Aren't lesbians gay? But I digress. According to the Fox story: "Supporters suggest slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk would be an appropriate choice" for inclusion in the curriculum.

As it happens, last month my eighth grade daughter was assigned to do a paper on Harvey Milk. Like most of us who live outside San Francisco, I was fuzzy about the murder of a politician in 1978, but knowing that Sean Penn played him in the movie was enough to raise my suspicions. My daughter asked for some help finding resources on Milk's life, and I suggested she expand the suggested hagiographic bibliography to things like the devastating account by Daniel Flynn that appeared in City Journal in May 2009. Flynn makes the following points:

--"As a supervisor, Milk sponsored only two laws-predictably, one barring anti-gay discrimination, and, less so, a law forcing dog owners to clean pets' messes from sidewalks." Eleven months on the city council," Flynn writes, "hardly seems the stuff of Hollywood legend."

"Milk was a short-tempered demagogue who cynically invented stories of victimhood to advance his political career," including falsely accusing Anita Bryant of setting off a bomb in front of his camera store. It is suspected that Milk himself set off the bomb to get publicity for his campaign.

--Milk's murderer was not motivated by homophobia.

--Milk was an admirer of Rev. Jim Jones (of Jonestown Kool-Aid-massacre fame). When Jones kidnapped a six-year old boy and brought him to Guyana, Milk wrote a letter to President Carter praising Jones and urging the President not to take action against the People's Temple.

None of these inconvenient facts matter to the proponents of Fair Education. All we need take away from history class is that Milk was a gay martyr slain by the homophobia that dominates American life, just as MLK was slain by omnipresent American racism. And isn't it eerie that the name MILK is so similar to MLK?