In a unanimous vote in Salt Lake City earlier this week, the council voted to rename 900 South as “Harvey Milk Boulevard” to commemorate the murdered gay rights leader. Milk was the first openly-gay person to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In total, Milk only got to serve 11 months in office as on November 27th, 1978, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned and wanted his job back.
Following his assassination, Milk became an icon in San Francisco and a martyr in the gay community which earned him the title of “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States” in 2002.
Meanwhile in what seems like half a world away, Xulhaz Mannan, gay rights activist and editor of Roopbaan LGBT magazine was hacked to death in Bangladesh in what would be one of the biggest hate crimes to haunt the world in recent times. The other victim, identified as Tanay Mojumdar also worked for the magazine. Both men were openly gay and believed that if more Bangladeshis came out then the country would have no choice but to accept them, seeing as it is still technically illegal. Both men were involved in the “Rainbow Rally” held on Bengali New Year since 2014, which was banned by police as part of widespread security measures. Although the writers at the magazine were not condemned by the government and received support from foreign embassies, they careful to protect their identities but truly did not believe their lives were at risk. I mean, why would they be?
Despite these two incidents seeming completely isolated from each other, a quote from the campaign manager of Milk, Anne Kronenberg ties them together. Kronenberg spoke of Harvey Milk as a visionary with the image of a righteous world inside his head which he strove to create; he wanted to create a democratic society. Those involved with Roopbaan are also modern day visionaries as they were risking their lives to encourage others to be who they truly are in the hopes that they will be accepted by their communities and country as a whole. Both were doing what Frederic Jameson would refer to “rattling the bars of a prison.” Both were striving for equal rights. In this day and age, this really shouldn’t be a huge ask. Violence against the LGBT community is still rampant and oftentimes, this violence takes place without consequence and with complete impunity. You could even go as far as saying the targets of famous assassinations in the past can be generalised as do-gooders, people trying to change society for the better.
This begs the question; why are people so opposed to change and opening their mind? So many countries are claiming to serve under a democracy with open arms to those from all walks of life, yet we’re still experiencing the recent cuts in mental healthcare, homophobic and racist violence and casual sexism.
At this point in time, I wonder would it be correct to say that the idea of a democratic and equal society a Utopian one? Is democracy, in general, a Utopia? Always striving to represent everyone but never quite gets that far.
How much blood has to be shed before people can be who they are in peace?