The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words – Vince Emery, ed. (Vince Emery Productions)

Buy it now from Powell’s Books

The night Harvey Milk was elected, my college roommate (and
boyfriend) went out with me to celebrate. A few gin and tonics later, Randy
looked at me and sighed. “They’ll kill him,” he said. “I’m surprised they let
him get this far.” A year later, Milk was dead, but his name was always spoken
wth reverence when recalling influential gay men. Then Gus Van Sant’s “Milk”
came out, and suddenly Harvey was hot again. But precious little has been heard
from the man himself. Vince Emery has changed that with the release of The
Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words.

Harvey Milk has no published writings, and that’s a shame.
We must, instead, rely on various interviews to glean an idea of his political
leanings and share in his dreams. Emery has provided a meticulously researched
and chronologically presented collection of these interviews including
transcripts from three debates Milk held with John Briggs, author of the Proposition
6 Briggs Initiative, which would have seen all gay (and gay-sympathetic)
teachers fired from California school districts.

What emerges is a surprisingly detailed portrait of Harvey
Milk’s rather populist philosophy and thought processes as well as some
tantalizing self-reflection and the idea that Milk was a political perpetual
motion machine. He never seemed to rest. Several of these interviews were given
on his way to some event or were interrupted by calls to vote or even other
interviews.

Strong on civil rights, public housing for the elderly, more
efficient public transportation, effective use of vacant public property,
funding neighborhood groups, and bringing industry to San Francisco so that it
did not become dependent on tourism, Milk’s battles were fought with courage,
conviction, tenacity and a consistency not seen in many politicians today. And
he fought them without big gay money—many wealthy gay men, such as The
Advocate
publisher David Goodstein, actively supported Milk’s opponents.
Instead, Milk built a coaltion of trade unionists, neighborhood groups and
“little guys.”

These interviews reveal a witty, committed man driven by a
strong sense of personal responsibility who thrust himself into politics as a
result of watching Nixon’s Watergate hearings on television. Even more
revealing, however, are the debates with John Briggs. Milk and Briggs battle
with some incredibly dramatic exchanges. It’s amazing how many of these
specious arguments against gay men and women are still being used today—the
idea of homosexual “recruitment,” the child molestation angle, the Biblical
saws. The more things change…

Many gay men can tell you how influential Harvey Milk was,
but perhaps they’re fuzzy on the specifics of why. The Harvey Milk
Interviews
proves to be an invaluable resource in laying out those
specifics. You’ll laugh, you’ll think, and you’ll come away inspired all over
again.

And we could sure use some of that these days.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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