After having previously read Pulp by Robin Talley (partly historical set in the 1950s), Ziggy, Stardust, & Me by James Brandon (queer historical set in 1973), Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (published in 1982), Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian (queer historical set in 1989), I eagerly jumped at the chance to read Music From Another World which is set from June 1977 to November 1978. My review for the book can be found here.
However, I didn’t stop at just reading this book. I was hungry to know more so I decided to read When We Rise by Cleve Jones and The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts, both of which are mentioned in the acknowledgment sections. I also watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. When the opportunity arose for me to do a post for the blog tour, I decided to do something atypical and talk more about some of the important moments that are included in the book as well as more of what happens after the book ends.
Who was Harvey Milk?
Harvey Milk was born in New York, and he served in the military until he was honorably discharged. He ended up San Francisco while he was in the military where he first became familiar with the city’s emerging gay community in the 1950s. During this time, however, he was not publicly out because being gay was illegal. Public displays of affection and private intercourse could all be prosecuted. It was also illegal to be gay and to serve in the military.
Milk ended up back in New York before leaving for Dallas. Eventually, he ended up back in New York before making the decision to move to San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, Milk became an asset to the Castro District, using his camera shop as a way to meet with neighbors and begin to organize his political campaigns. He first ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1973. It was not until the Board of Supervisors were reorganized into neighborhoods that Milk successfully won his bid for Supervisor in November 1977.
While Milk only held the position of Supervisor for 11 months, during his tenure, he worked to create a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment in San Francisco. Milk was shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978.
Who was Dan White?
Dan White also served in the military, although he was discharged in 1971 because he was considerably younger than Milk. He briefly was a San Francisco police officer before quitting and joining the fire department instead. He ran for Supervisor of District 8 and won.
Although Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, he and Milk actually worked well together for a time. However, after Milk changed his mind and voted to approve a juvenile offender facility in White’s District, White turned on him. White refused to speak to Milk for months, began spending less time at City Hall, and was noticeably different at board meetings.
But the biggest change in attitude was towards gay rights. White originally stated that “the sooner we leave discrimination in any form behind, the better off we’ll all be” (Shilts, 1982, p. 198) However, after Milk changed his vote on the juvenile facility, White voted no on the gay rights ordinance, telling Dick Pabich, a campaign manager for Milk, that he voted against Milk’s ordinance because Milk voted against him on the juvenile center.
White’s behavior became more erratic in the following months, and he ultimately resigned from the Board of Supervisors. Less than a week later, however, he wanted his position back. Mayor George Moscone considered this before ultimately deciding against reinstating Dan White as Supervisor.
Who was Anita Bryant?
Some who read Music From Another World may say to themselves, “Anita Bryant sounds too much like a villain to be true.” However, she is one-hundred percent real (and still alive).
During the 1970s, gay rights experienced a sudden progression. Across the nation, several cities were passing ordinances similar to the one passed in San Francisco, protecting LGBT people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, this came to screeching halt when Anita Bryant launched a very overt anti-gay campaign. Anita Bryant was a pop singer, a Miss Oklahoma winner, and a spokesperson for orange juice. But she’s most known for her work against gay rights.
Bryant launched the Save Our Children group after Dade County passed their ordinance to protect gay rights. Save Our Children collected 65,000 signatures to repeal the ordinance, and when put to a vote, the voters repealed the gay rights law on June 7, 1977.
But she wasn’t satisfied with one county. Across the nation, other towns and counties faced similar repeals–some worked in Save Our Children’s favor by repealing gay rights while some voters shut down the repeals or new initatives.
What happened historically after the novel ended?
On November 27, 1978, Dan White sneaked into City Hall through a basement (now the ground floor) window, knowing that he could bypass the newly installed metal detectors if he did so. He went first to Mayor George Moscone’s office where he shot Moscone multiple times and killed him. He then went across City Hall, found Harvey Milk, and shot and killed him. White fled from City Hall, met his wife inside of St. Mary’s Cathedral and confessed what he had done. They went together to the Northern Station of the San Francisco Police, where White had once worked. White was treated exceptionally well by his former colleagues as he confessed to the crime. Ultimately, White’s lawyer managed to stack the jury full of sympathetic white conservatives, and they found him guilty on only the charge of voluntary manslaughter. White served only five years for the murders of Moscone and Milk.
After Milk was assassinated, a spontaneous candle light march drew up to 40,000 people who marched from the Castro District to City Hall. Friends of Harvey Milk had to fight to allow Milk to lie in state next to Mayor Moscone in the rotunda, and officials eventually agreed.
In 1979, after White was found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter, pandemonium erupted in the Castro District. They marched to City Hall, but they were no longer peaceful protestors as what had happened many times in the past. Instead, a riot ensued. Several police cars were burned, and protestors broke doors and windows at City Hall.
While it was too late for justice for Milk and Moscone, their murders and the subsequent trial changed the California judicial system, making it extremely more difficult to claim diminished capacity as White had done in order to get away with murder.
What if I Want to Learn More?
You should check out:
When We Rise by Cleve Jones
The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984 documentary)
Meet San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9iYasWREzE
25th Anniversary of Moscone-Milk killings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_K0moovYM8
Harvey Milk interview 1978: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVlxq7wqgeU
Links to Music from Another World