Something extraordinary happened last
night at the Academy Awards. Despite having lost the Best Picture
Oscar, Milk winners reminded the nation what Harvey Milk stood
Best Original Screenplay winner Dustin
Lance Black gave a stirring gay rights speech in which he said Harvey
Milk had given him hope.
“When I was 13 years old, my
beautiful mother and father moved me from a conservative Mormon home
in San Antonia, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey
Milk. And it gave me hope,” Black said in his acceptance speech.
“It gave me the hope to live my life.
It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am
and then maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married.”
He thanked his mother, then continued:
“But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years
ago, I think he'd want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out
there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their
churches, by the government or by their families, that you are
beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what
anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise
you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation
“Thank you. Thank you. And thank
you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk.”
Director Gus Van Sant's Milk is
based on the life of gay activist Harvey Milk, who in 1978 was
fighting a draconian Anita Bryant-backed measure – the Briggs
Initiative – that sought to expel gay and lesbian teachers from
California schools. Milk, the first openly gay politician in the
U.S., fought back against the measure and won, but his victory was
short lived. Twenty days after voters had rejected the Briggs
Initiative, Milk was assassinated on the steps of San Francisco City
Hall by a disgruntled former city commissioner, Mike White.
Gay activists had found solace and
inspiration in the film released shortly after three painful gay
marriage defeats in Arizona, Florida and California.
Sean Penn, who played Harvey Milk, won
a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
Penn scolded voters who passed
Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that yanked back the
right of gays and lesbians to marry in California on November 4.
“For those of you who saw the signs
of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good
time for those who voted for the ban on gay marriage to reflect on
their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes.”
A star-studded audience cheered when
Penn added: “We got to have equal rights for everybody.”
Penn said his win came as a surprise
but that he had prepared some words in case the Academy was a bunch
of “commie, homo-loving sons of guns.”