QSU celebrates National Coming Out Day with “Milk” screening

Harvey Milk in front of Castro Camera on Castro Street, San Francisco 1977

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Library

Harvey Milk in front of Castro Camera on Castro Street, San Francisco 1977

On Thursday night, the Queer Student Union (QSU) hosted a screening of the film “Milk” to celebrate National Coming Out Day.

“Milk,” starring Sean Penn, tells the story of Harvey Milk’s rise from a small business owner in San Francisco to the first openly gay man to serve as an elected official in the state of California.

In the early 1970s, Milk owned a camera shop in the Castro district and began his political activism after facing discrimination based on his sexual orientation. Shortly afterward, he ran for city supervisor. He lost the election multiple times, but in 1977, he was voted into public office.

His career was short-lived as a year later he was assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who feuded with Milk on political issues.

Milk encouraged closeted people to come out, to show others that the gay community exists everywhere. He hoped that once people learned that their friends and family were part of the gay community, they would be accepted and loved instead of viewed as suffering from a “sickness.”

Margie Arnold, the wife of newly appointed Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly, gave the opening remarks at the beginning of the event. She explained that National Coming Out Day is necessary because it impacts politics and brings recognition to people’s stories. She also said that it is important to learn from early activists and to carry on their legacy.

“During the 70s, I was so young I didn’t appreciate what was happening, but now that I’m older and I get educated by films like ‘Milk,’ I feel so appreciative and so grateful for those gay activists who came before us,” said Arnold in an interview with The Journal. “And so I think we owe it to them to continue striving for equality.”

QSU brought the film to Suffolk to highlight that the LGBTQ+ community is comprised of diverse people that work in a variety of fields, using politics as only one example.

“We just wanted to show that not all gay people fit into one box,” said QSU President Joe Piemonte in an interview with The Journal.

Although this story took place over 40 years ago, there are still lessons to be learned from it.  Significant progress has been made in the fight for gay rights, but with today’s current administration, there is still more work to be done and conversations to be had.

The film also showed students a piece of LGBTQ+ history that is not often taught, so they were able to learn about a landmark piece of history and connect it to today’s issues.

Although Milk’s name is not commonly written in history textbooks, he is a key figure in the LGBTQ+ movement. Milk lost his life to show the world that members of the LGBTQ+ community were worthy of respect, acceptance and love. His commitment to the fight for gay rights throughout the 1970’s paved the way for today’s LGBTQ+ activists.

“Milk” was released in 2008 and is available for streaming on Netflix.