Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” said he’s optimistic about the chances of California declaring May 22 as Harvey Milk Day.
After he testified on Wednesday before the state Senate’s education committee, the panel voted 7-2 to send the bill to the full Senate.
“We not only won the vote, but we actually got bipartisan support,” he said from San Francisco. “That was very exciting to me. I got a little misty eyed.”
Black told the committee of how, when he was 14 and struggling with being gay in a conservative environment, a theater director in the Bay area told him the story of Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected official, and how he “stood up to prejudice and bigotry” and “lived openly as who he was.”
“The big point I made is I was one of the lucky kids,” Black said. “But why did it have to happen through luck?”
The bill — which has also been championed by the star of “Milk,” Sean Penn, would designate May 22, Milk’s birthday, as a “day of special significance.” It would not be an official state holiday, but it would encourage schools to recognize Milk with “suitable commemorative exercises” on that day.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar piece of legislation last year and said that it should be up to each community to decide if it wanted to honor Milk.
But Black argued that Milk was far more than a local figure but someone who “lit the fire of today’s national and global LGBT civil rights movement.”
State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the sponsor of the bill, even has suggested that the success of the movie has helped improve the bill’s prospects.
“If there’s one thing Arnold Schwarzenegger understands, it’s box office,” Leno has said. “Harvey Milk now has box office.”
Black also spoke of growing up in an environment where “I knew I was less than my fellow students and, according to my church, I was right down there with all the sinners, murderers and rapists.”
Milk’s story, he said, “gave me hope.”
According to the AP, opponents argue that such Californians as Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney are more deserving of such recognition. Others testified that schools would be promoting “Mr. Milk’s lifestyle.”
But perhaps it was telling that during the hearing, Black and others got word that Maine approved same-sex marriages, and later in the day, New Hampshire’s legislature sent a bill for the governor to sign.
The shifting landscape has made Black more optimistic that the state Supreme Court will overturn Prop 8. If they do not, he plans to attend a post-decision rally in Fresno.
“I was not really hopeful that we would win, but not I am a bit more hopeful,” Black says.