On Nov. 27, 1978, disgruntled former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White walked into City Hall and shot and killed George Moscone and Harvey Milk. The former was mayor of the city, and the latter was then a San Francisco supervisor. Oh, and the country's first openly gay elected official.
There was really not much doubt that this had happened, so White's lawyers argued that the man had been depressed and so was technically in a diminished capacity, which meant his actions couldn't have been premeditated.
As evidence of his depression, his lawyers suggested that his increased intake of sugar was unusual for him. They never suggested the sugar made him do it, as is commonly thought, but never trust people looking for a sensational story to not make one up.
The jury believed it. And on this date in 1979, the gay community erupted in an instant, some violently and some nonviolently, at the news that Dan White had been found guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
For those in the gay community whose names are unknown to us because they never got the chance to make names for themselves.
For those they miss, and for those who miss them.
And in memory of Daryl.
On or about this date in 2004, I walked up to the podium in my oral communication class, in Southwest Virginia, and delivered a speech on gay rights. Four students were still in the room; most had left quietly after delivering their final speeches.
I remember almost none of that speech, but the first words are burned into my brain, and remembering back to that moment, I am still overcome with tears:
I'm giving this speech today for a man who can't be here today to give it himself. Daryl, this is in your memory.
Daryl was a friend of a friend I'd met some years before. Two months before I gave this speech, he shot and killed himself. His parents had disowned him because he was gay.
As I delivered the speech, which I had practiced several times the night before (partly so I wouldn't break down in the middle, and partly because I can't shut up, and I didn't want to be cut off in the middle), I surveyed the room, looking at each person. Three I expected to be friendly: the professor and two students I knew were sympathetic to my cause.
One looked like I had just insulted her core. Like I had just said, "You are not worth being here to listen to this. You are not worth my time or anyone else's. Everything you believe is bullshit."
In the span of about half a second, as I spoke words I had spoken half a dozen times the night before (and so knew cold), I contemplated shooting my final all to hell by stopping and asking her if she had a problem with the suggestion that people are worthy of respect. But instead, I kept going, kept giving her more audacious words to invade her mind, maybe challenge a belief or two.
I have not seen her since. I moved away from that area (for reasons essentially unrelated), and any reason for visiting the school died with the relationship that drew me there.
But I have never forgotten her, I have never forgotten the beginning of that speech, and I will never forget Daryl, a man I never met, have no mental picture of and wouldn't know about but for a girl I met on the Internet in 2000.
And how is this related to Harvey Milk? It is part of a larger dialogue — or, more usefully, a sort of twisted Samuel Beckett play, in which the audience keeps hoping a character will appear, but such a character never does, or the character is so hopelessly stereotyped as to be immediately useless.
If you are a member of the gay community growing up in the 1980s (or really, before about the middle of the 1990s), good luck finding a positive role model you can identify with. There were no openly gay politicians other than Harvey Milk. Barney Frank came out in 1987, and that was on the other side of the country from California. If you were a scientist, you had Alan Turing, who killed himself in 1954. If you were an athlete, you had Billie Jean King in 1981, and not by her choice. If the media was your thing, you had Rock Hudson after he died. You had an episode of M*A*S*H in which a guest star comes out by saying a homosexual and an African-American were attacked, and he wasn't the African-American. You had a thoroughly stereotyped bit part on Cheers and this short-lived TV series. And you had the theatre, where you can forget about all the homophobia out in the real world — only to have it kick you in the ass once you're back on the outside again. If you were in a big city, you had a gay bar, maybe a few, and if you were in a really big city, you had the nightlife, which had become fairly active since the Stonewall riot in 1969. And you had the growing gay pride movement.
By contrast, those who wanted to gain something by condemning the gay community had ... AIDS patients. They could point to any number of people, finger wagging, and say, "Look! This is God's wrath! Repent!" Pro-gay major political candidates did not exist.
Daryl grew up in the West in a conservative religious household. He was smart enough to get into Dartmouth, and he was a member of the school's pride alliance.
For reasons I was never told (not my business, really), in the spring of 2004, Daryl took a leave of absence from school and flew back home. I am told that he came out to his parents, that they disowned him, that they then began looking at reparative therapy (which does the opposite) and that he shot himself a week later.
For every Daryl, there are uncountable others. I mean that literally: These statistics are not kept, so you can't count them. We know how many people have died of AIDS since the early 1980s, and we know of anti-GLBT hate crimes ... when they are reported.
We can try to get a rough estimate for the number of people hate and desperation have killed, but we will never know how many parents' asterisked love cost them their children, how many Matthew Shepards were tied to fence posts and simply not discovered, not reported, not dignified. A gay friend of mine tells me people were reported as having "died at home" when, in reality, "father shot him for being a faggot," "gave up trying to become straight" and "swallowed all the pills in the house and was discovered in the morning" were more accurate.
Ten years after Shepard, and almost 20 after Milk, we have a compassionate conservative too conservative to be compassionate enough to sign hate crime legislation. McCain will almost assuredly veto it. Obama will approve it.