1. Michael Bedwell says

    Earth to Causecast:

    While digging up those great historical film and sound clips, you should have done a little reading of something other than the press release from the film.

    A. Milk was NOT the “first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States.”

    And read some Milk history:

    B. Even the misinformed filmmakers didn’t claim that Dan White’s “CHARGES were downgraded to manslaughter.” He was charged with first degree murder. Through the peculiarities of law the jury had the option of finding him guilty of lesser offenses and that’s exactly what THEY did.
    Voluntary manslaughter was the verdict not the charge.

  2. The Gay Numbers says


    I find your post odd. Mostly, because whether or not your facts are right, they are irrelevant.

    a) Historically, it is true that someone predated Milk as the first openly gay elected official, but the key element was that is election marked a symbolically significant moment that aided in reshaping the zeitgeist. It was not merely the event, but the emotional significance. Think of it like this- Stonewall was not the first time gays ever protested how we were treated by the mainstream. But, it sparked the people’s mind in a way that other events before it did not. The key here is the emotional link.

    b) I am a lawyer. I have no idea what your second post means with regard to why you think that it changes what was said. It’s mostly a form over substance argument as far as I can tall. Either that you don’t know what you are talking about. Either way, it does not change the events.

  3. Michael Bedwell says

    By saying that facts are “irrelevant” and “emotion” is more important than “substance,” one would deduce you’re a defense lawyer. And, as such, you could have pitch hit for Dan White’s attorney who convinced a jury that despite Dan White admitting that he took his service revolver and extra bullets when he went to “talk” to George Moscone about his reappointment to the Board of Supervisors AND crawled THROUGH A WINDOW to escape the building’s entrane metal detectors, his multiple “overkill” shots into Moscone and Milk who were in different rooms yards apart, including coup de gras shots were nope, not PREMEDITATED murders.

    Second, YOUR facts are missing. There was not ONE openly gay person elected to public office before Milk but THREE. The “significance” of his election is entirely shaped retroactively through the blood-splattered lens of his murder. One can speculate, but there is no way of knowing how much more than Elaine Noble or Allen Spear he would have contributed to the “zeitgeist” had he lived.

    3. And it is strange that a lawyer would not understand the significance of the second point. The video montage erroneously states that the “charges were downgraded.” That would put the blame for White’s unjust sentence upon the SF District Attorney’s office. While many agreed the prosecution did a poor job carrying the actual “first degree murder” charges in the trial, again, the JURY had no ability to downgrade the CHARGES but only cherry pick their verdicts.

    Perhaps the problem is that you’re not a TRIAL lawyer, but someone accustomed only to pushing paper which, unlike moi, can’t talk back.

  4. Banne says

    Actually Michael, both of the prior elected gay officials were women and therefore not men and so Milk actually still was the first openly elected gay MAN, which is what you said was incorrect about this video. Allen Spear was re-elected AFTER he came out but when first elected was not out of the closet. The other two were lesbians. There is a difference which for whatever reason you choose to ignore to somehow downplay Harvey Milk’s legacy or the importance of his being elected to office.

    Also, Milk was important nationally as a gay rights activist before he was shot. People across this country knew who he was before he was dead. His legacy does not come from his murder. He wasn’t just out, he was OUT. And was still elected to office and was most certainly the first homosexual elected to office who was elected not in spite of his sexuality but very much because of it.

    What is your beef?

  5. will says

    Michael…..I find it very refreshing that you are making such a wonderful effort in pointing out these issues. I think it needs to be done and thank you for that. It does appear that you’re speaking though anger though. Still can’t figure that part out.

  6. The Gay Numbers says


    Before Michael posts, I would love to hear like Banne what issues in your own words you think Michael is pointing out. From my perspective it reads like nitpicking. This is the equivalent to 20/20 doing that investigative report that they said would shed new light on the Matthew Sheppard incident. They added a fact here and a fact there, but none if ultimately changed what happened that night. The same is true here. Michael pointed out like one of crazy people online some random irrelevant Academic quiz team points. But, how does it matter with regard to Milk’s legacy or that of the gay movement? I don’t expect you to answer since I think both of you are probably old guys with an agenda, but hoenstly if you could say something that’s not totally random it would be nice to know why this is useful at all.

  7. Michael Bedwell says

    Sadly, it’s clear I need to emphasize that my attacks on those who distort history and disrespect its many heroes are NOT an attack on Harvey Milk. To interpret them that way is, at best, silly.

    That said, sorry, Banne, your dismissal of Spear’s reelection as a then out gay candidate is indefensible unless you change your description of Harvey’s accomplishment to “the first out gay man elected when he FIRST ran for office.” Voters in 1976 were being asked to vote for out-homosexual Spear for the first time. And they not only did, but 16% MORE voted for him than had voted for him as assumed-to-be-straight Spear in ’74.

    And, again, the math is incontrovertible. Out gay Spear was elected a year before out gay Milk. Spear’s coming out was inspired by Elaine Noble but she quickly burnt out and dropped out of politics but out Spear was reelected again and again, ultimately becoming the president of the State Senate. One hopes he missed the early indications of VanSant/Black having erased him from history before he died in October.

    Thank you, Will. And, yes, I am writing through anger. Anger that people who made achievements for all of us, in places and times requiring sacrifices that Harvey was not faced with, some of which I’ve known personally, are so casually forgotten. And that anger is only increased by the inane assertions of someone like #s who attacks me simply for reporting the facts, ultimately resorting to childish flames such as “crazy….old guys with an agenda.” The truth shall set us free not hagiography nor argumenta ad hominem.

    Your second error, Banne, is more complicated than simply “who, when, and where.” But as someone who was heavily involved in gay activsm in Washington DC when Harvey was elected and killed, and very much current about who and what was being discussed “nationally” as well, I can assure anyone objective enough to listen that the farther one got from San Francisco the less relevance he THEN had beyond its borders. That takes NOTHING away from the importance he had locally.

    Yes, his election made national news, just as the elections of Noble and Spear before him, and gays everywhere [except those in CA who did not yet like him] were happy about it. [The real “first,” an out lesbian elected to the Ann Arbor city council, was barely noticed at the time and still missing from most histories.]

    But barely three weeks after his election in 1977, as I sat down in DC with movement icon Frank Kameny and national heroes Leonard Matlovich and Dave Kopay to eat with them the Thanksgiving dinner I’d prepared there was next to no mention of him at all.

    There was still talk of our devastating loss to the Anita Bryant forces that June, a fight to which other San Francisco activists [gays Jim Foster, Mike Scott, Jack Davis; nongays state legislator Willie Brown and SF Sheriff Dick Hongisto] were invited to participate in Miami while Milk was not.

    Even after he was elected and formed his own group to fight Prop 6 in 1978, the CA gay activists who were asked by other anti 6ers to barnstorm the country to raise money with their national reputations included the Rev. Troy Perry, Del Martin, and the recently relocated Matlovich and Kopay. Not, again, Milk; which, again, takes nothing away from what he contributed locally and statewide but illustrates the absence of a pre-murder, pre Shilts’ biography, pre Oscar-winning documentary resonance.

    Those interested in further details might read Shilt’s book and another one with a broader focus called, “Out for Good.” The latter is also more objective, and, unlike the former, contains no apparent dramatic license. I directly witnessed some of the events Shilts miswrote about, e.g., the micro riot over a green cop attenpting to arrest someone for illegally posting flyers in the Castro, actually more simply an angry mob, a few weeks before the White verdict.

    Yes, there is much to inspire us about Milk’s life, but I don’t believe he ever shouted, “I’m recruiting you to rewrite history.”

  8. Banne says

    Ok so lesson to be learned. Anything anyone did in SF didn’t count because it’s SF (even though clearly SF was not what it is today in 1977.). Because Michael didn’t talk about it at Thanksgiving dinner, clearly Milk’s election didn’t mean anything until after he was killed.

    Got it.

    Oh and note to self, always set aside 20 minutes to read Michael’s unnecessarily long, pointless and self-congratulating diatribes.

    Again, I’ll simply state that the re-election of someone who did not come out as gay until after first elected OR the election of an openly gay person who mentions it briefly but it clearly is not the focus of their campaign, while no less commendable in the 1970s, is of course not going to be viewed as landmark as someone who wins with gay equality very much at the forefront of their campaign. It’s a shame we don’t have more openly gay politicians willing to use their positions in such a way.

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