Murdered gay politician Harvey Milk's legacy key in Trump era - screenwriter

Tuesday, 27 November 2018 18:41 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A thank you note and two roses are seen on a bust of former San Francisco Supervisor and gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk in San Francisco City Hall in San Francisco, California June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black says the U.S.'s first openly-gay politician would have "gone directly after" Donald Trump

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Nov 27 (Openly) - The legacy of openly gay U.S. politician Harvey Milk, assassinated exactly 40 years ago, has never been as critical with LGBT+ rights under threat around the world, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of the 2008 film "Milk" said on Tuesday.

"I think Harvey Milk would have gone directly after (U.S. President Donald) Trump," U.S. film-maker, writer and activist Dustin Lance Black told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

"He would have seen Trump as an opportunity to get the LGBTQ community to re-engage, to shake off any complacency."

The Trump administration moved in 2017 to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.

LGBT+ rights are also under threat elsewhere in the world, Black added.

In 2013, Russia passed a "gay propaganda" law aimed at banning the promotion of homosexuality to children.

"Minority rights must always be vigilantly defended," said Black, 44, who lives in London with his British Olympic diver husband Tom Daley and their son.

"Every minority has to defend the freedoms that the previous generation has won – and we have to do that vigorously."

Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California, becoming a member of San Francisco's board of supervisors in 1977.

Dustin Lance Black pictured in his home in London, England. September 14, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nicky Milne.

Earlier this year, a study estimated 0.1 percent of U.S. elected public officials - or 559 people - were openly LGBT+, while Jared Polis became the country's first openly gay man elected to governor, in Colorado, earlier this month.

Whilst in office for only 11 months, Milk has since been widely recognised as one of the world's most influential LGBT+ politicians.

He was killed at the age of 48 by a fellow San Francisco city official on November 27 1978.

His life and work stands as a "message of hope for young people that you can be open about who you are and still be loved and succeed", Black said.

"In fact, your life will get better when you come out."

Black, who won the 2009 Academy Award for writing the screenplay to the Gus Van Sant-directed film, which starred Sean Penn in the lead role, said Milk's message that "hope will never be silent" still resonated today.

Penn won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Milk, whilst Van Sant was nominated for best director.

"Forty years later, we're still talking about this revolutionary idea that he had," Black said. "That by coming out you could dispel myths and stereotypes.

"It was an incredibly helpful message for people who didn't have a whole lot of hope before gay liberation lit up."

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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