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Harvey Milk and Homosexuality

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Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in Milk (2008)
Gus Van Sant is one of my favourite directors, with his film Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003) being probably somewhere among my top ten favourite films. In 2008 he released a film entitled Milk starring the versitile Sean Penn as Harvey Milk who became California’s first openly homosexual elected official. I walked into the theatre in February not knowing what to expect... a film about the assassination of a homosexual man, directed by an acclaimed director who himself is homosexual.

However Gus Van Sant did not dissapoint. Touching only lightly and briefly on the more physical aspects of the homosexual lifestyle, the film focused on the dialogue and characters, centering around the numerous campaigns to get Harvey elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Every film is subject to the bias of its creators, and Milk is no exception. However I was impressed at how restrained the film was, in places where it could have lashed out more at the group who were in opposition to Harvey Milk's campaigns. As with any doco-film, you can't take everything at face value, however Van Sant's skillful use of archived footage helps to cement the story in fact.

The vitriol directed at Milk and his supporters portrayed in the film was abhorent, being fueled by a mixture of fear and hatred. While I hold that homosexuality is immoral, I would not advocate legislating against people who wish to engage in a homosexual lifestyle, or who wish to create or consume media which promote such a lifestyle. Neither is it right for homosexuals to be treated differently from straight people.* Those pursuing a homosexual lifestyle are entitled to the same rights as everyone else, however it is clear that this principle was widely considered to be incorrect in the 1970's.

Why should Milk's private and consensual relationship with another man have been considered to disqualify him for a position as an elected official in his city? The anti-homosexual camp hated Milk. They hated him for what he did, what he said, and who he represented. The fear of the unknown can often be fundamental in discrimination against minorities in society, and this was obviously one factor present in the anti-homosexual camp. I have no problem with people being opposed to homosexuality, and openly exposing it for the dangerous lifestyle that it is to individual practicing homosexuals. The plight of children living in homes with homosexual "parents" is also an issue that must be addressed. However simply attacking homosexuals for who they are and what they do - and attempting to demote them to a lower status in society is absolutely not on.

The Government has no jurisdiction to legislate for or against the actions of consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. This principle also applies to consenting adults in a business setting, where money changes hands. Of course things start to get a whole lot more convoluted when the age of the participants is in question - but this is another issue.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

*Naturally, this should go both ways, but I will elaborate on this in a later post.
Any puns perceived to be present in this post are entirely coincidental ;) 

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