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This Saturday, a variety of activities are going on across the city in honor of the first Harvey Milk Day, the California state holiday honoring the late gay rights leader, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law last year.
The City of West Hollywood was an early proponent of a holiday in Milk’s honor, and the city’s Mayor Pro Tempore, John Duran, will play Milk when the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) performs at Fairfax High School on Saturday night. The performance is part of GMCLA’s Alive Music Program, which uses music and song to teach students about homophobia, diversity, and tolerance.
“We perform songs that teach about race, class, sexual orientation,” Duran said. “The idea is to engage students on the subject of what it feels like to be an outsider. Sometimes if you just lecture at kids, it’s hard to keep their attention. So we want to teach about Harvey Milk’s life in song, and weave in some theatrics to show the highlights of his life.”
The Gay Men’s Chorus was founded in the aftermath of Milk’s assassination. When the verdict came down for Milk’s killer, Dan White, convicting him of involuntary manslaughter but not of murder, a group of Milk’s supporters gathered in protest at San Francisco City Hall, where Milk had served as one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials. The protest began with men singing, though it later turned violent, as people burned cars. A month later, a group of men in Los Angeles began meeting in Plummer Park to sing, determined to mimic the nonviolent aspects of what had started in San Francisco, and the Gay Men’s Chorus was formed.
Duran, who joined the GMCLA in 1998, said for many high school students, just getting to see and talk to out-of-the-closet gay men makes the biggest impact.
“Out of two-hundred men, we have one hairdresser,” Duran said. “Other than that, we have doctors, lawyers, accountants, people who work at movie studios and in TV. I think it’s important for kids to see so many people in all these different employment positions.”
Equality California, which helped author the bill to make Milk’s birthday a state holiday, is also holding events throughout California, including door-to-door canvasses in Los Angeles, where in 2008 the majority of voters supported Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage.
Marc Soloman, marriage director for Equality California, said the organization has led more than 200 canvasses during the last year, with the focus on visiting people who oppose same-sex marriage. He said their studies have found that the canvasses have convinced approximately 25 percent of those visited to change their position and support same-sex marriage.
“Harvey Milk Day is a catalyst for getting people to go out and have conversations, because that really fits with what Harvey’s message was,” Soloman said. “He always stressed the importance of people coming out and telling their stories. It’s the best way to humanize LGBT people, and help everyone understand who gay people are, and why gay people want to have the right to marry.”
The City of West Hollywood is also holding its own celebration of Harvey Milk Day. Starting at noon at West Hollywood Park, speakers will honor Milk’s legacy, and encourage volunteers to sign up for Equality California’s canvassing, as well as for future community service projects.
In addition, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center is staging a march for equality in downtown Los Angeles, beginning at 3:00pm at Father Serra Park, 123 Paseo De La Plaza (between Union Station and Alvera Street).
For more information, visit www.lagcl.org, www.weho.org, www.eqca.org, or www.gmcla.org.
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