On May 22, Mt. SAC Lambda, in collaboration with the communications club, put together a celebratory open mic in honor of Harvey Milk Day.
Harvey Milk Day commemorates the birth of Harvey Milk, a pioneer in the LGBTQ+ community as the first openly gay politician to ever be elected in a California public office. He is remembered as a face of hope against adversity who fought vehemently for gay rights in San Francisco.
Milk’s story is both one of remaining in the closet and one of perseverance through visibility. The duality of his experience is a reminder of both the struggle of acceptance and the power with being out and vocal.
Milk was assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, after White was denied reappointment by the mayor of San Francisco in part due to Milk’s insistence. White’s lenient sentencing incited outrage in the queer community, leading to the White Night riots.
“On campus, it’s important to bring awareness to who Harvey Milk was and who he is and what he did for the queer community,” Diego Torres-Casso, 19, said. “It’s important to have these leaders shown so that other people can gain knowledge about where their queer community’s roots are embedded.”
Queer students of all identities and orientations and allies alike were given the chance to approach the mic and speak from their hearts in the quad of building 26.
They shared words of comradery, reassurance and of their individual experiences through poems, stories and testimonies. Some choked up, others laughed – regardless of how they presented their stories, each was woven with messages of hope, unity and acceptance.
History professor and Lambda adviser, Kimberly Earhart, said the crowd varied between 75 and 125 people, and at least a dozen faculty members were in attendance. She said about 16 students spoke from a variety of sexual and gender identities.
“I think we did a great job kind of … representing a diversity of people,” Earhart said.
Inspired by a recent poetry slam held by the communications department, the open mic event was put together as a chance to educate and give queer students a platform to share significant and personal parts of themselves and their allies an opportunity to share their support.
“It took so much courage for the students to stand up and share their stories,” Earhart said. “I hope that people were inspired by that courage. Inspired by the courage of Harvey Milk.”
Torres-Casso, who identifies as a gay, genderqueer latinx, said, “I think it’s important for gay people – people within the LGBT community – to have visibility, and an event like this on campus is a perfect opportunity for us to speak our voices and say what we have to say.”
While times have certainly changed, and being out and proud is significantly more possible, LGBT people continue to face a disparaging amount of discrimination and violence simply for existing. Things have gotten better, but the fight continues.
Acceptance and respect are far from fully attained, and many within the community recognize the need to continue educating and being vocal.
“We’re free. To an extent,” said Albert Serna Jr. at the open mic. “We’ve still got shackles on our ankles. We’ve still got people in our community in pain.”
Serna, 27, a Mt. SAC student and queer activist, told the crowd not to forget about those within the LGBT community who are facing severe violence simply for their orientations and identities. He referenced the ongoing brutal treatment of gay men in Chechnya, Russia, where many have been put in concentration camps, threatened, tortured, and murdered since February of this year.
Serna implored allies in particular to participate in the fight for equality and march with the queer community to show true support and solidarity. West Hollywood will be hosting its annual LA Pride March in June.
“Minority communities … we can be strong, we can have a voice, but without the majority, without allies and advocates in the majority, we can only go so far,” said Earhart.
The Pride Center has been a significant step at Mt. SAC towards providing queer students a safe space and building a strong community within the campus, but members and faculty recognize that there is more to be done.
Earhart said the next step is for Mt. SAC to introduce gender neutral bathrooms.
“To have a pride center and not have gender neutral bathrooms … Well, it doesn’t make sense not to have gender neutral bathrooms, period, right? I mean, period, we should have them, but to have this space … it seems like, clearly there’s something missing.”
The event finished off with the crowd singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Harvey Milk and celebratory cake. The Harvey Milk open mic is hopefully a first in many events that promote a creative outlet and visibility for the LGBT community on campus.
“I’m hoping people who maybe don’t understand the community or question the community, they saw that outpouring of support or heard the stories, it felt more human, right?” Earhart said. “That perhaps maybe it also, maybe, open people’s eyes to that, too.”