Harvey Milk – the “first openly gay man to be elected to public office in a major city of the United States” – has received a lot of attention recently. First there was the successful Sean Penn bio-pic, Milk, then there were the proposals to proclaim a “Harvey Milk Day” in California and now the White House has announced that he will be awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To learn more about Harvey Milk, I’ve been reading Randy Shilts’ biography, The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. So far, I’m amazed at how obtuse Shilts is in his portrayal of Milk’s induction into homosexuality.
Shilts describes Milk as an 11-year-old, engaging in sexual activity with grown men. He also writes about the early lives of several of Milk’s partners. Sadly, some of them suffered childhood sexual abuse, too. Except that Shilts never calls it that. Instead, he calls what happens to these boys “discovering sexuality.”
Shilts informs us that one of Milk’s partners, when he was only nine years old, is introduced to gay sex with grown men at a local theater. There, he learns to prostitute himself for quarters. But Shilts calls it “an introduction to gay life.” Another boy was only 16 when he moved in with the 33-year old Milk. Try teaching all this to a class of fifth graders on the proposed “Harvey Milk Day.”
Milk and his many partners could be poster boys for an analysis produced by authors from the Centers for Disease Control that shows the widespread degree to which men who have sex with men were sexually abused as children.
A number of serious outcomes are associated with childhood sexual abuse of boys, including: sexual compulsivity, sexual identity confusion, shame, guilt, struggles with masculinity, anger, rage, fear, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, depression and increased risk of partner abuse.
Milk and his sexual partners lead tumultuous, broken lives – rife with many of these problems. The inappropriate sexual activity introduced to them as children is unaddressed and unhealed, and so it festers on in their adult lives.
But I doubt that any of this will get even a mention in all the press over President Obama awarding Milk the Medal of Freedom.
See also: Citizenlink Commentary: Got Milk?