The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World

Image of The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World
Release Date: 
October 31, 2018
Oxford University Press
Reviewed by: 

Harvey Milk was on the San Francisco board of supervisors and was the most high-profile openly gay elected officials in the world when he was gunned down in his office 40 years ago this month. In his taped notes about his candidacy, Milk predicted he might be assassinated and stated that he was not just a politician but part of a movement of gay Americans “yearning to be free.” And indeed, Milk’s rallying cry for all gay people to be out and visible, then and now, has inspired GLBTQueer citizens in the US and around the world.    

Andrew Reynolds’ The Children of Harvey Milk chronicles the private and political journeys of two generations of pro-GLBTQ activists who Milk has inspired. They are legislators, parliamentarians, judges, government officials, and citizen activists making the difference and on the front political lines to continue the fight for LGBTQ rights, facing the current threats of a worldwide uptick of government-sanctioned antigay crusades.

As many advances that have been made in the quest for GLBTQ equality and representation, there has been an equally forceful, violent and disturbingly effective campaign by homophobic politicians, and evangelical “missionaries” who export their brand of anti-gay hate—all have blood on their hands.  

GLBTQ people are routinely imprisoned, brutalized and murdered in dozens of oppressive regimes all over the world, and Reynolds’ investigative analysis is a prescient reality check.

In Pakistan, Reynolds reports, only 2% of the population “accepts” homosexuality.  In Russia, Vladimir Putin is basically trying to eliminate gay visibility, and there have been countless purges, imprisonments, and murders.

Similar ruthless methods are taking place in various forms in the African, Caribbean, Asian, and Arab countries. There are reports of routine stonings, imprisonment, and torture of gay men and women in Iran and Saudi Arabia. In South Africa, grotesque crimes as raping lesbians to “convert” them into heterosexuals are culturally tolerated; many such attacks end in murder. And NATO largely remains silent about this human rights issue.

But Reynolds’ profiles of the pro-gay global movement gives much reason for hope. The amazing journey of South African activist-politician Zakhele Mbhele, for instance, the first out gay man elected to the South African Parliament in 2014.

The recent pro-gay reversal of a resurrected a 153-year-old law that re-criminalized homosexuality in India, which amazingly just weeks ago, was decriminalized, so GLBTQ India has been re-liberated. Michael Cashman became known in Britain as the first out character Colin Russell in the ’80s on the hit BBC soap opera EastEnders. Cashman became Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands, 1999–2014, and is now in the House of Lords and the Labour Party’s representative on LBGTQ issues worldwide.

Barney Frank (D-Mass) was a closeted Congressman who made history when he was outed in a gay sex scandal in 1985 involving a male hustler, but not only didn’t he resign, he became a leading advocate for the advancement of gay rights bills in Congress. 

And now a new generation of rising political voices are being heard. Sarah McBride, a community activist already making history as the first transgender woman to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 now is planning to run for office in her home state of Delaware.

But the attacks and hate crimes against GLBTQ Americans are at record highs across the US, officially starting with the President’s actions against GLTBQ  Americans. While Trump didn’t get away with kicking transgender military personnel out of the military, he is trying to erase the identity of an estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans by fiat that a person genitalia at birth defines their sexual identity for the duration of their life.

Reynolds cites this alarming research concerning transgender and non-binary sexuality in the US: 82% of transgender Americans have considered suicide to escape the hate and oppression they face every day.

The Children of Harvey Milk is a vital almost up to the minute barometer of where LGBTQ civil and human rights stand. Reynolds is professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina and founding director of UNC LGBTQ Representation and Rights Research Initiative, a global think tank focused on gay politics.

His style is one based on meticulous research and thorough sourcing that is a bit heavy at times, but this is vital documentation of the gay civil rights movement in our perilous times. That it comes out on the 40th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s death honors the work of a transformational politician and testament to his enduring legacy.