By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
The LGBT Community has long dealt with oppression. Change has come mostly when the general public re-examines their perceptions as happened after the Stonewall riot highlighted police treatment of LGBT or when public figures like Magic Johnson came forward as HIV positive. One such figure is Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to political office.
Perhaps from the outside it’s difficult to understand why the LGBT community has often had to stand alone. Families of mixed race have faced similar prejudice. While mixed race marriage prejudice has mainly died out fear of one’s child bringing home a same sex partner seems to carry forward. Arizona, like many states, has passed a law limiting marriage to be between one man and one woman, claiming to defend marriage. This year Phoenix resident Chelsea Palles married her long time sweetheart, Carrie Geisler. When asked about their decision to get married Chelsea stated:
“When we got married this past March, it wasn’t for the legalities. It wasn’t because we had to “go to the next step” in our relationship. We got married to show ourselves, our friends and family, and our community that love knows no gender. Even though, we are not bound by the law, we are bound by love and we honor our marriage like we would if it were legal – maybe even more so. I felt that my fiance deserved a “real marriage” and a “real ceremony” despite what the law said. We walked down the aisle with our friends and family, we exchanged vows, I even stepped on glass (Jewish tradition)! Our wedding was not only valid, it was REAL. We coincidentally were married the same day as the March for Equality, so we had the honor of exchanging those vows with the love of the LGBTQ and Ally community filling the air of downtown Phoenix. There is nothing different about our marriage, but the state makes us different by not recognizing our marriage. My only hope is that I will be able to legally marry my wife so that we can have a better life for our children
On March 22, 2012 the first Phoenix Harvey Milk Celebration –which is his birthday – took place to “pay homage to Harvey Milk and his contribution to the LGBT movement for Full Equality”. Occupy Phoenix was among those who participated in the march. Occupier Doug Molony spoke on the importance of building these relationships and building community support. “After the march we all went back to Caesar Chavez Plaza for a candle light vigil and to listen to people speak about Harvey Milk. We ended up getting into a conversation about a movie we, Occupy Phoenix, had thought of showing called Milk. Several people thought this was a wonderful idea and one of them, a volunteer at One Voice, offered to let us use their community center as the venue. The movie was heart-warming and brought tears to most people’s eyes, including myself. Lots of wonderful people showed up and the evening concluded with a great discussion. This became the venue for several more movie showings.”
In 1977 Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk served 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. Milk became an icon in San Francisco and “a martyr for gay rights” and is considered “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States”.
This year, Phoenix is expecting an even bigger turnout for the Harvey Milk Day Celebration with more support from allies. Lawrence Robinson, a candidate for the Phoenix City Council is expected to attend and speak. Part of his campaign platform seems to be inclusiveness to the LGBT community with events like ‘WeMatter’. A new group called Project Arizona will also be joining the event this year to help build community support. Project Arizona founder Jason Baker says “We care, We collaborate, We are committed to building an Arizona that values diversity & equality.”
Building unity has been a major goal among the LGBT community, with some recent successes. One Community developed a unity pledge asking businesses to bring an end to Workplace discrimination. The City of Bisbee, passed an ordinance recognizing same sex couples who are married as partners with the same rights as other families. Nationally decisions will soon be reached on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which doesn’t recognize same sex couples rights and on California’s Prop 8 which allows a state to determine marriage eligibility.
The 2013 Phoenix Harvey Milk event will take place on Wednesday, May 22 starting at the Arizona State Capitol and walking to Cesar Chavez Plaza. The organizers of this march, including Hero Phoenix and One Voice Community Center, hope to “recreate the spontaneous march and candlelight vigil the day the LGBT Community lost Harvey Milk”. Hero Phoenix notes “Harvey allowed us to hope that we could be more, that we could be Out and Proud, that we could live in a world without hatred and bigotry, and that we could achieve Equal treatment under the law.”