We watched "Milk" last night, the story of the first gay elected official, Harvey Milk, in San Francisco. I was in 8th grade, I think, and living just north of SF when Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated, so I remember it well. What I was less aware of are the details of the gay movement at the time. I knew who Anita Bryant was, but not some of the details of the fight against the newly emboldened religious right. The second act of the movie is built around these details, especially the struggle against proposition 6, which would have banned gay teachers (imagine that witch hunt).
The strategy against proposition 6 was the right way to fight an anti-gay measure. They fought the proposition with visibillity: their slogan, "come out! come out! wherever you are!" The tepid opposition to proposition 8, the recent anti-gay marriage measure in California, could have taken some lessons from this strategy.
Sean Penn is brilliant in the movie, simply because I forgot I was watching Sean Penn. I'm not always a fan of the biopic, but I liked "Milk" more than I thought I would. I think I'd also been avoiding the movie because the assassinations were an example for me then of the senseless cruelty in the world. Their killer, ex-cop Dan White, got the minimum sentence with the "twinkie defense," and the long winter of the Reagan era followed shortly thereafter, not to mention AIDS/HIV. But what I took away most from the movie was the sense of elation in the mid seventies of the new power of being out of the closet.