LGBTQA Group Books discussion

The Mayor of Castro Street > Wow, a real slice of gay history (Looking at Part I - The Years Without Hope)

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message 1: by Whitaker (last edited Jan 20, 2009 07:08AM) (new)

Whitaker (lechatquilit) As much as The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk is about Harvey Milk, I also liked learning about American gay history generally, and the development of the gay movement there. I was intrigued by the history of how San Francisco became a gay mecca. It’s ironic that it was World War II and the discharge of gay men from the armed forces should have helped create this city. Just the sheer concentration of gay men in one area must have helped them become a political force to be reckoned with, and it makes you wonder if gay liberation would have been slower without that political clout.

Also fascinating was reading about the other brave men who fought for gay rights in the early years. Jose Sarria, the owner of the Black Cat, was a remarkable individual. His nightly exhortations to gay men to stand and be proud of who they are was very moving. Craig Rodwell, a former lover of Milk’s, was also an incredible force, helping to organise resistance during the Stonewall riots.

message 2: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker (lechatquilit) Shilts talks about how many of his friends in his early years later realised that there was something distant about Harvey, as if he was not all there. His boss at the New York Wall Street firm, Monty Gordon, called him a drifter. And Harvey maintained no links with his friends from his early days. That’s something that I can really relate to, and is, I think, an experience common to a lot of gay people. It’s certainly very different from most straight people who do maintain some links that last from childhood and adolescence. It is, I think, something of a loss—not having those connections and a common history to share. Does anyone feel differently or has had a different experience?

message 3: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker (lechatquilit) Shilts also mentions how Harvey had preternatural inklings about his early death. He would spend money lavishly on the basis that there would be no need to save up for an old age he would never live to see. I wonder how much this factored into his bravery and the risks he would later take as a politician.

message 4: by Catherine (new)

Catherine | 6 comments Whitaker wrote: "As much as this is about Harvey Milk, I also liked learning about American gay history generally, "
Another aspect of San Francisco gay history is that during and after WWII, many lesbians joined the army, and in the 1950's there was a purge of lesbians in the WAC. Most of them had served in the Pacific theater and were returned to San Francisco. Knowing they couldn't go home to Kansas, many of them stayed there.

message 5: by Whitaker (last edited Jan 18, 2009 12:52AM) (new)

Whitaker (lechatquilit) That's a great tidbit Catherine. It's really intriguing for me how World War II became this catalyst for gay rights by concentrating so many gay and lesbian people in one city. This concentration, arising from the prejudice and discrimination of the army, became a virtuous circle. The concentration of gay and lesbian people in San Francisco gave them the clout to demand more equality, which attracted more gay and lesbian people to San Francisco, which made them an economic force, which gave them....This really has to be one of the major ironies of history. LOL!

message 6: by Nicole (new)

Nicole  I think chapter 4, San Francisco's history, was my favorite from this section. I enjoyed reading about Milk's past, but learning how SF became a gay mecca was fascination. I have to echo many of Whitaker's comments.

I, too, found Milk's feeling of early death interesting. I can see how this could definitely affect how he became political, but, so far, his early life hasn't been that full of risks - in many ways, it's seemed more irresponsible, than risk taking.

message 7: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker (lechatquilit) Yes, it's interesting how conservative he was during his youth and how radical he became when he got older. It's the reverse of the trajectory that most people go through. It's odd, isn't it? I agree that he was irresponsible in some ways--like, not saving--but "responsible" in others--having a steady well-paying job. I think he was definitely thinking more of himself during his youth and his wants. It makes his evolution to a gay leader taking his civic responsibilities seriously, not just to the gay community but also to the wider community, all the more intriguing.

message 8: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) Whitaker, thanks for some insightful posts. I think it's important for the younger gay generation to appreciate what happened back then. It was people like Harvey Milk (and many other gay activists) who paved the way for the greater tolerance today towards homosexuality. For example, when I was in high school, no one would have even thought about coming out. I did't even know what that meant and repressed my feelings. Today, as you know, it's not uncommon for kids as young as 14 to identify as gay or lesbian, often openly. We've come a long way, baby!

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