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Author Topic: The Mayor of Castro Street  (Read 160253 times)

Offline Jenny

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #60 on: January 14, 2009, 09:51:58 PM »
I don't know, Debbie. I wouldn't think so. He may have been expressing his own lack of faith somehow by refusing to do what is customary--perhaps he thought it was foolish to spend the money it would have cost to bury her when it didn't really matter what happened to her body, or that it would be more fitting to have her carried away by the ocean instead of being confined to a grave. Perhaps he couldn't bear to put her in the ground. Perhaps he was rebelling against his religion.  Judaism teaches that the body is to be ritually purified, dressed in a simple white shroud, put in a wooden casket (usually of pine and made without metal), and buried within 24 hours of death if possible. The idea is that the soul goes immediately to God, and the body should also be returned to the dust from whence it came as soon as possible. Above-ground burial is also forbidden by Jewish law, because the return to the earth cannot take place. The shroud and simple casket are to make all humans equal in death, however rich or poor they may have been in life, and to facilitate decomposition. Harvey put his mother in a shroud, and one assumes there was a funeral service, but after that he departed from tradition. Perhaps the hardest thing for relatives to do after the death is to recite the Kaddish, which is a prayer of praise to God. It is said as an expression of faith even in the midst of tragedy and grief, first at the funeral and then at least once a week every week for eleven months (the pious recite it three times a day, every day, at morning, afternoon and evening prayer services.) Perhaps Harvey didn't want to be hypocritical. He was not religious, and perhaps his family was not, either, except by tradition.  This is totally speculative, of course; we have no evidence and we'll never know what motivated him. I find it hard to imagine, however, that a man who loved his mother deeply and who was, generally, a kind and compassionate person, would do such a thing simply to defy or prove something to his father and brother. But perhaps that was part of it. Grief affects people in many different ways.
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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #61 on: January 14, 2009, 10:47:05 PM »
I wanted to point out some places on the web you can go to for historical documents related to this period of time in our book.  Jim Foster is one of the people mentioned in this book that Harvey encounters when he comes to San Francisco.  The book mentions that Foster gave a speech at the Democratic convention in August 1972.  Here is the text of that speech:

http://books.google.com/books?id=PatzOnRJCf4C&pg=PA176&lpg=PA176&dq=%22Jim+Foster%22++%22Society+for+Individual+Rights%22&source=web&ots=8A9iponb8A&sig=JZF4fZQcoLNYxA0T7BzXTD5Xruk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result

That book also has a policy statement from the Society for Individual Rights.

Here is a web page that talks about the SIR's place in San Francisco History:

http://www.gmax.co.za/think/history/2004/040330-SFriscoRights.html

And here is an article from the Advocate about the speech Jim Foster gave at the convention:

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/From+the+Archives+of+The+Advocate-a064698467

And here is a web page that gives further information on both Jim Foster and Harvey's boyfriend (and the founder of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) Craig Rodwell:

http://www.gayonkauai.com/gay-hero.htm

And here are some general gay timelines for San Francisco:

Gay Chronicles - Len Evans [note that this history has information on many of the gay bar raids in the state] - to 1970

http://www.geocities.com/gueroperro/Chron1-Calif-page.htm

Gays and San Francisco share a long -- and sometimes tumultuous -- past
[San Francisco Chronicle]

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2000/06/23/DD20GAY.DTL&type=printable


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Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #62 on: January 14, 2009, 11:06:35 PM »
Dawn you had asked about the charges that people faced when they were arrested.  Here is a document entitled 'Privacy Jurisprudence and the Apartheid of the Closet, 1946-1961'.  As you might imagine with something with a title like that, it's a little dense, reading wise.  However, if you pay particular attention to the sections entitled '1. Laws to Suppress and Erase the Sex Pervert', '2. Flushing Out the Homosexual: Spies, Decoy Cops, Raids' and 'C. State Suppression of Homosexual Association and Expression' (particularly the section '3. Closing Down Homosexual Socialization') you'll get a pretty good idea as to how the police operated in this period and the types of charges they used against people (and the effects that would have on their lives):

http://www.law.fsu.edu/Journals/lawreview/frames/244/eskrtxt.html#heading14
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #63 on: January 15, 2009, 06:35:17 AM »
I don't know, Debbie. I wouldn't think so. He may have been expressing his own lack of faith somehow by refusing to do what is customary--perhaps he thought it was foolish to spend the money it would have cost to bury her when it didn't really matter what happened to her body, or that it would be more fitting to have her carried away by the ocean instead of being confined to a grave. Perhaps he couldn't bear to put her in the ground. Perhaps he was rebelling against his religion.  Judaism teaches that the body is to be ritually purified, dressed in a simple white shroud, put in a wooden casket (usually of pine and made without metal), and buried within 24 hours of death if possible. The idea is that the soul goes immediately to God, and the body should also be returned to the dust from whence it came as soon as possible. Above-ground burial is also forbidden by Jewish law, because the return to the earth cannot take place. The shroud and simple casket are to make all humans equal in death, however rich or poor they may have been in life, and to facilitate decomposition. Harvey put his mother in a shroud, and one assumes there was a funeral service, but after that he departed from tradition. Perhaps the hardest thing for relatives to do after the death is to recite the Kaddish, which is a prayer of praise to God. It is said as an expression of faith even in the midst of tragedy and grief, first at the funeral and then at least once a week every week for eleven months (the pious recite it three times a day, every day, at morning, afternoon and evening prayer services.) Perhaps Harvey didn't want to be hypocritical. He was not religious, and perhaps his family was not, either, except by tradition.  This is totally speculative, of course; we have no evidence and we'll never know what motivated him. I find it hard to imagine, however, that a man who loved his mother deeply and who was, generally, a kind and compassionate person, would do such a thing simply to defy or prove something to his father and brother. But perhaps that was part of it. Grief affects people in many different ways.

I never felt that Harvey acted out of malice when he decided to have his mother cremated. He didn't seem to be religious, and by buying a white shroud and having a funeral service, I think he did what he felt was enough even though his brother and father were upset. While he never denied his Jewish identity, he was not a religious Jew.  No, we don't know what motivated him, and he did what he felt was humane.  His brother and father left it up to him -- why would they have done that if they were that upset by it?  Seems to me he took charge and did what he felt was necessary.  After the funeral, he was never close to the family again.

BTW I posted previously that his mother was either in denial about his sexuality, or she was clueless, but I think he remained close enough to her while she lived, and wanted to protect her from finding out about him and Joe.  He always felt "it would kill her" if she found out, and he remained considerate  of her feelings -- signs that he cared about her deeply.

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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #64 on: January 15, 2009, 06:52:02 AM »


16.) What do you think of Harvey's notion of politics as theater?  In his early political career do you think that this notion helped him or did it marginalize him?



I was interested to learn about this aspect of Harvey.  He always seemed to crave attention -- life of the party -- sitting in the bus and laughing it up with the guys.  He was very flamboyant and seemed to be a 'natural' when it came to attracting attention.  Since he had been active in theater product on in NYC, once he moved to SF and immersed himself in politics, he discovered an outlet for his theatricality which not only provided a stage for someone as outgoing as he, but it became a tool in his fight for gay rights -- SF gays who had been demeaned by society now had a champion who was smart, tough, and charismatic. 
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

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Offline Ellen (tellyouwhat)

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #65 on: January 15, 2009, 08:26:15 AM »
^^^^^

well said, Nikki --

I agree -- and unfortunately, successful politicians need to have not only a viable agenda, but they need to be able to excite voters with a simply stated message that captures attention.

Theatrics.
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #66 on: January 15, 2009, 11:01:23 AM »
^^^^^

well said, Nikki --

I agree -- and unfortunately, successful politicians need to have not only a viable agenda, but they need to be able to excite voters with a simply stated message that captures attention.

Theatrics.


Tks Ellen.  In the 30s, the governor of Louisiana, Huey Long, had this same type of charisma.  He was later assassinated, but was 'a man of the people,' while he lived -- charismatic and outgoing. You're right -- theatrics!
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #67 on: January 15, 2009, 11:08:13 AM »
Judaism teaches that the body is to be ritually purified, dressed in a simple white shroud, put in a wooden casket (usually of pine and made without metal), and buried within 24 hours of death if possible. The idea is that the soul goes immediately to God, and the body should also be returned to the dust from whence it came as soon as possible. Above-ground burial is also forbidden by Jewish law, because the return to the earth cannot take place. The shroud and simple casket are to make all humans equal in death, however rich or poor they may have been in life, and to facilitate decomposition. Harvey put his mother in a shroud, and one assumes there was a funeral service, but after that he departed from tradition. {snip}

Thanks again, Jenny, for putting this in perspective.  This all sounds familiar, now that you've laid it out, because I did some reading about Jewish tradition when in college.  But it has been a long time, so thanks for bringing back the details.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2009, 11:24:09 AM by dejavu »
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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #68 on: January 15, 2009, 11:22:23 AM »
I am assuming, since Harvey did love his mother (from all we have read), that his decision to have her cremated didn't reflect any antagonism toward her, and wasn't intended to dishonor her in any way.  If anything, it seems short-sighted, something possibly done for the sake of expediency.  How do you feel about that?


He may have been expressing his own lack of faith somehow by refusing to do what is customary--perhaps he thought it was foolish to spend the money it would have cost to bury her when it didn't really matter what happened to her body, or that it would be more fitting to have her carried away by the ocean instead of being confined to a grave. Perhaps he couldn't bear to put her in the ground. Perhaps he was rebelling against his religion.... {snip}

I never felt that Harvey acted out of malice when he decided to have his mother cremated. He didn't seem to be religious, and by buying a white shroud and having a funeral service, I think he did what he felt was enough even though his brother and father were upset. While he never denied his Jewish identity, he was not a religious Jew.  No, we don't know what motivated him, and he did what he felt was humane.  His brother and father left it up to him -- why would they have done that if they were that upset by it?  Seems to me he took charge and did what he felt was necessary.  After the funeral, he was never close to the family again.

Okay, so I think we're all in general agreement here.  Harvey did love his mother, nobody thinks otherwise.  His decision to cremate her must have been more tied to his own lack of strong religious beliefs.  Good point.  I might even suggest that that it could be related to some of the "New Age" thinking he encountered as he began to associate with the counter-culture, but that's just one hypothesis.  And as you say, Nikki, his father and brother left the decision up to him, so his brother's (Robert's) anger after the fact does seem a bit harsh.
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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #69 on: January 15, 2009, 11:38:35 AM »




17.) Given the difficulties that Harvey had with gay politicos early on are you surprised that he was able to get endorsements from labor?  Were you surprised at the partnership he formed with Allan Baird?  Did you know about the Coors boycott?  Does Harvey's actions with labor unions show that he was more than a one issue candidate and that he could have boader appeal?  Do you think it was important for gays to be able to get jobs in unions at this point?



No I wasn't.  Harvey was a political pragmatist.  He knew that it wasn't enough to go after the gayonly votes.  If he wanted to make it in SF politics, he had to court the powerful labor unions -- not an easy thing for a gay man in SF.  Baird was also a pragmatist, he had seen the neighborhood change and the rise of the gay population.  He knew that Harvey was the goto guy to get things done if you wanted to work with the gays.  He also approached Harvey respectfully by asking for his help as the spokesperson for the gay community.  When Harvey agreed to help Baird, he wisely asked for jobs for gays, something that impressed Baird.  One reason this was important, was that by being accepted into the unions, gays not only got jobs, but broadened their participation in the rank and file of the working class. They  would no longer be considered as twits running around in tutus, but as working men contributing to SF society on an economic level.  This enhanced Harvey's appeal as well -- he wasn't just a one-trick pony -- his political strength was two pronged: he helped the unions by supporting the Coors boycott, and he got jobs for gays thus achieving political power for the gay community.
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #70 on: January 15, 2009, 11:52:47 AM »

18.) 'Some people call me the unofficial mayor of Castro Street,' Harvey said.  Do you think it matters that nobody knew who 'some people' were?  Do you think that (as Shilts says) this made good copy showed a sort of native political intelligence in Harvey?


It definitely made good copy.  It certainly enhanced Harvey's position among  the gay community regardless of who 'some people were.'  And it added luster to Harvey's rep among the straight community who may have looked to Harvey as the goto guy for political favors.  Harvey was savvy about his persona, and knew how to nurture it with such political statements.  It was dramatic and theatrical -- politics as theater!
The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!

Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #71 on: January 15, 2009, 12:28:28 PM »
9.)  In the 60s Harvey moved from being a Goldwater Republican to working with the musical 'Hair' and becoming a hippie.  To what do you attribute this change?  Was Harvey just becoming tired of the inconsistency between his working 'straight' world and his love life?  Did the death of his mother allow him to change in this direction? 

 
After Harvey returned from Texas and resigned from Bache, he seemed unhappy with his life.  He became involved with the 'flower children' and immersed himself  with the new counterculture.  His move to SF changed his outlook, and he became more relaxed and flexible.  He moved from the right to the left, so to speak when he moved to SF and stayed with the cast members from 'Hair,' and decided that SF was the place for him --- a new boyfriend, new life, and the beginning of a new direction. 

After his mother's death, he never visited his family again, but I don't think her death influenced his political about face.

Nikki, I like the way you answered this question.  Very good point about him becoming more relaxed and flexible in San Francisco.  I’m going to add a few thoughts.

It’s ironic that Harvey was associated with ‘Hair,” because his gradual movement from right to left was symbolized by him growing his own hair.  Even after his 1968 resignation from Bache (for which he had worked in Texas and New York), he stayed in the corporate world in San Francisco, taking a job as a financial analyst when he first moved to San Francisco, thereby carrying on a three-piece-suit existence even as his hair got longer.  His final break with the establishment in 1970 came when he burned his BankAmericard after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  He wasn't fired for that action, however; Shilts says that Milk was told, "Cut your hair or quit."  He wouldn't quit, and was fired when he wouldn't cut his hair.  So the short-to-long hair transformation marked the end of one period in Harvey’s life.  (Hair would again mark a transformation in his political career, when he cut off his long hair to garner more political support, after losing his first election in 1973.) 

It's interesting to me that even after Milk's final break from the corporate world, he still used his business background when he began to develop his political philosophy.  He understood that the city budget had to balance, that campaigns had to be financed, and so on.  Even though he became a Democrat because of his social ideals and goals, he never gave up the fiscal pragmatism that he had learned as a Republican.

Michael, I thought this part of your question was interesting:  “Was Harvey just becoming tired of the inconsistency between his working 'straight' world and his love life?”  The term ‘straight’ could have a double meaning there, couldn’t it?  His working life centered around people who at least kept up a pretense of being sexually straight, whereas his love life centered around the gay subculture.  But you could also mean that his work life was traditionally bureaucratic, whereas his love life was more freewheeling, especially after he moved away from strictly monogamous relationships.  I wouldn’t say that either way of looking at his love life (as a gay man, or as a person in non-monogamous relationships) had as much to do with his political transformation, as did his association with the counter-culture – although they’re related, because the counter-culture’s idea of “free love” came as a real break from his old monogamous ideal.  The counter-culture, however, was full of sexually straight people, even though they may not have been the ones he got to know best.

Yes, Nikki, I don’t think the 1964 death of his mother entered into this transformation, especially since several years had passed since her death and he was living clear across the country from the rest of his family by the time he actually left his financial analyst job.

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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #72 on: January 15, 2009, 01:18:43 PM »
10.) On page 34 Harvey tells Jim Bruton that he'll never make it to fifty.  This is a recurring theme in the book.  What do you make of this belief?  Do you think that Harvey had some sort of foresight - or do you think Shilts makes too much of this notion?

Nikki, I think your response hits the nail right on the head, when it comes to Milk’s repetition of that statement in later life, after he has become a gay activist:

If Harvey was Irish, I'd say he was 'fey.'  However, there does seem to be an underlying feeling of precognition in his remarks.  Shilts attributes these remarks to various people by Harvey, so I think Shilts is not making too much of it.   Harvey was politically savvy, he knew he had set his feet on a path that could bring down retribution on his head.  Being a gay activist was not something that  would indear him to the rank and file of mainstream America.  He was aware of violence towards gays, and he had to know how unpopular his political stance was coupled with the fact that he was now an open gay man running for office. Harvey liked attention and relished being 'The Mayor of Castro Street' -- not a low profile.  One could say this way led to disaster, and IMO this is what colored Harvey's attitude to his early demise.

But I find it somewhat puzzling that Harvey made that comment on page 34 to Jim Bruton, when he was still working in New York.  Bruton was a Bache vice-president who had guessed that Harvey was gay, because he (Bruton) was apparently gay himself.  In their discussion on page 34, Bruton says, “The only way you’ll go before you’re fifty is if you finally get somebody at the office so mad that they’ll push you out a window on Wall Street.”  No hint here of political activism in Harvey’s future.  Harvey tells Bruton that he’s known since he was a kid (long before he became political) that there’s something sinister down the road.

Why would he think that?  Perhaps it’s because he grew up as an outsider, both by being gay and by being Jewish.  He was leading a very conservative life at the time of his discussion with Jim Bruton, so he may have had no idea then that he would ever be a gay activist or a political candidate or a public figure of any kind.  It could be that he just thought that he might become an anonymous victim of anti-gay violence, or the victim of a police raid gone too far.

However, I was also struck by something that Jenny said yesterday, when discussing Harvey’s Jewish background:

Last but not least, Jews tend to have a tragic view of history. They're used to losing their boldest leaders to martyrdom and to finding that even governments that gave them sanctuary and apparent acceptance will turn on them when it's expedient. They have a lot of experience in fighting for lost causes against overwhelming odds, too. I suspect that some of that seeped into Harvey's worldview. When he decided to fight the system he knew he would become a target, and he accepted that. He didn't want to die, but he knew how powerful martyrs could be in motivating change.

Jenny, you were referring to Harvey’s later days after he became active politically, but perhaps that Jewish “tragic sense of history” seeped into Harvey’s personal outlook on life even before he knew what he really wanted to be in life -- even before realized that he would become a bold leader and a candidate for martyrdom.

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Offline dejavu

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #73 on: January 15, 2009, 02:38:27 PM »
11.) Shilts talks both about Jim Bruton and another 70 year old man who he interviewed for the book who wanted to remain anonymous even though his lover was dead.  Does the difference between the anonymous man and Bruton (and Harvey) seem to be simply one of personality - or is political (or perhaps class related)?  Do you see this notion coming down to our own day with those who believe 'it's nobody's business but ours'?

I initially thought it was more than personality, but now I’m not sure what.  Nikki suggested that it might be generational, and that makes a lot of sense to me, if the anonymous 70-year-old man was really a lot older than Jim Bruton.  But I’m not sure about that; the years and ages are confusing.  Bruton was a vice-president of a firm in the 1960s, and Shilts spoke of the “septuagenarian” when writing this book in the early 1980s (20 years or so later).  It seems to me that Bruton and the anonymous man might both have been in their 50s during the early 1960s, especially if a person had to put in a lot of years with a company before becoming a VP.  They could actually be about the same age. 

This anonymous man does say, “I’m just from a different generation” to Shilts – that could just mean that he’s not from Randy Shilts’ generation.  “But it’s also the generation that Harvey Milk came from, he stresses,” Shilts writes (and I think this may be a fault in the book, that Shilts wrote the sentence that way without a better explanation).  That sentence did seem confusing, because Harvey, born in 1930, was only in his 30s during the 1960s, and the book says that the anonymous man served as a “gay father figure”  to young homosexual professionals (including Harvey, by implication).  Harvey must have been a lot younger than the anonymous man, but I can’t tell where Jim Bruton fits in.  It makes sense, though, that his higher corporate position might make him considerably older than Harvey.

Both Jim Bruton and the anonymous man both seem to be from a fairly wealthy class, with high positions in the corporate world, so I would guess their difference isn’t class-related.  And I suspect it’s not a political difference, because Bruton is concerned with “how to play the game” to get ahead in the corporate world (so he’s not an activist), and the anonymous man thinks, “What does politics have to do with homosexuality?”  Maybe it does come down to personality.  Bruton may be comfortable with coming out and being identified publicly in a book, whereas the anonymous man doesn’t see the point in talking publicly about being a homosexual.  For him, the phrase “it’s nobody’s business but ours” would probably strike a chord, and he would agree.   

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Offline Nikki

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Re: The Mayor of Castro Street
« Reply #74 on: January 15, 2009, 04:20:11 PM »

Tks Debbie for your comments.  Harvey was a complex man, wasn't he?  Yet, long before he arrived in SF, he had feelings of something 'sinister down the road.'  Even before he became a gay activist Harvey knew what life was like for gays -- he experienced the raids in the park in NY, and he had enough sense to keep his sexuality closeted from friends in high school and college for his own protection.  He knew the military code against gays was career threatening even before the DADT policy of later days.  I think Bruton's remark to Harvey about getting someone so mad they'd push him out of a window, while it had nothing to do with his later activism in SF, indicated to Burton that Harvey had it in him to attract violence because of his 'live fast, die young' philosophy. Even though Burton considered it morbid, he recalled it years later and how it occasionally came up in their conversations.

And yet.... I admired that Harvey forged ahead in later years once he was immersed in gay rights in SF knowing he was taking risks politically, not to mention that several of his lovers certainly exhibited violent tendencies attempting and, in some cases, committing suicide.  His life was surrounded by threats and tragedy, but he never seemed to lose his love and enthusiasm for the ideals he fought for in SF. If politics was theater, Harvey was an award winner.

The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.

If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!