I saw Milk in Chicago the day it was released there. The film blew me away. I was so moved by it that I’ve seen it twice since. I was surprised, though, by what the movie gave me. The story of Harvey Milk gave me a history, a movement to belong to, and a myth to believe in.
The feelings I felt watching Milk were identical to the feelings I had on my mission in the LA Visitor’s Center watching the Joseph Smith film that plays there. Identical. It shocked me. I felt like there was a connection between the assassination of Joseph Smith and the assassination of Harvey Milk. There was a connection in the persecution leading up to it. There was a connection in the mourning of these men. There was a connection in the way their ideas lived on past them. And it made me realize how important it is to be a part of something and to have history and myth. I found out after I saw the movie that the screenplay was written by now Oscar award winning Dustin Lance Black, a former Mormon. I wonder to what extend his Mormonism and the way the Joseph Smith story is presented affected this film.
It’s amazing how important Church lore and history is to Mormonism. Every religion is completely dependent on its mythology. I don’t use that term to mean fiction, I use it to refer to the supernatural history that is repeated from generation to generation to define a people. Mormon mythology is rich and beautiful. It shapes the Mormon people. It gives them a purpose-a mission. It gives them something in common with each other.
As I have been growing more and more distant from Mormonism, I have felt the absence of that mythology. I didn’t miss the camaraderie and shared experience Mormons feel with each other because I had the moho community. My gay friends and I all shared common feelings of marginalization that compensated for the loss of a ward family. But until I saw Milk, I had nothing to replace LDS history. Learning about Harvey Milk and the people involved in this movement has given me that history. In a way it justifies us as a group.
I have been reading a book on gay spirituality and have learned that Harvey Milk certainly wasn’t the founder of the gay movement, nor was he the only influential gay hero. People from Walt Whitman to Ellen Degeneres have shaped and defined us as a people. But watching Harvey Milk’s story is what made me feel like I was a people. We are a people. Gays have a community, and we can be a part of it. Just as LDS converts adopt the pioneers, we can adopt Milk’s history as newcomers to the great and diverse gay community. How exciting is that?!