"And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant in television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone." - Harvey Milk, 1978
Today, cities across the USA are observing Harvey Milk Day.
By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY
Robin Galbraith never thought she'd be a gay-rights activist.
Then the 46-year-old military ship designer moved home to Mobile, Ala., from Houston four years ago and encountered a gay community where many are afraid to live openly.
Taking inspiration from slain gay-rights leader Harvey Milk— the San Francisco supervisor whose struggle inspired the 2008 movie Milk— Galbraith is helping gays and lesbians be more visible in the mostly conservative city. She speaks to local colleges and created a website to make it easier for people to connect.
On Saturday, she'll celebrate with California as the state marks the first official Harvey Milk Day on what would have been his 80th birthday. Galbraith will host a viewing of the movie, then a forum on issues vital to gays and lesbians in the South, such as electing openly gay politicians.
California is the only state with an official Harvey Milk Day, but 26 cities in 20 states scattered nationwide will hold rallies and events to honor the first openly gay man to be elected to public office and icon of the gay-rights movement.
"He knew you had to make change," Galbraith says. "Our community has to understand you have a voice, and if you don't use it, nothing will change."
Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He fought to end discrimination against gays and lesbians and built coalitions of gay-rights groups, labor unions and small-business owners. He was 48 when he was killed a year later by a former supervisor, Dan White.
Equality under law
The Milk events come as gay-rights advocates are pressuring Congress to pass a bill that ends job discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and to repeal the military ban on gays and lesbians serving openly.
Twenty-one states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 12 ban discrimination based on gender identity, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Advocates are lobbying Congress to include a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" — the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military — in a spending bill a House committee took up Wednesday and a Senate committee plans to take up next week.
Gay-rights activists stepped up their protests this week, rallying at the U.S. Capitol and in front of legislators' district offices and chaining themselves to the White House gates to call attention to their causes.
Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, one of the groups leading the rallies, says that despite gains since Milk served, gays and lesbians still lack full equality. "Thirty-two years later, sadly, we still wait," she says.
Opponents are just as passionate. Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis at the conservative American Family Association, says the lack of movement so far shows "these issues are radioactive enough" that Congress doesn't want to go there.
Gay-rights activists, he says, are trying to steamroll unpopular legislation through Congress and using Harvey Milk Day to "force acceptance of homosexual behavior."
"They know they are running out of time," he says.
Both efforts face hurdles as legislators dealing with tough re-election campaigns hesitate to back the bills, says Paul Yandura, a political consultant who works on gay-rights issues.
If Democrats lose seats in the midterm elections, he says, the bills have even less chance of passing.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, says she wants to pass both bills and is meeting with lawmakers about the timing. He would not say whether either has the votes needed to pass.
Education as first step
Advocates say Harvey Milk Day allows them to celebrate Milk's legacy as they fight for full equality.
Raymond and Byron Moya, who are married with twin 3-year-old daughters and a newborn son, plan to spend the day going door-to-door in East Los Angeles with their family, talking to residents about same-sex marriage and gay rights.
The couple is among hundreds canvassing neighborhoods in nine cities with Equality California, the group that led the two-year effort for Harvey Milk Day.
"We want to educate people about who we are as a family," says Raymond Moya, 38. The couple has been together seven years and married in 2008 during the five months that California allowed same-sex marriage.
Galbraith dreams of the day when gays and lesbians in her community will feel free to live so openly. "We should not be hiding," she says.
Milk's nephew, Stuart, who is gay, says it is inspiring that communities such as Mobile are celebrating the day.
"It is difficult in places like Mobile," he says. "These people are standing on Harvey's shoulders and creating new shoulders for others to stand on."