Edited Volume: Harvey Milk and Queer Politics (30/07/09)

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The Queer Politics of Harvey Milk: An Edited Collection

"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

- Harvey Milk, "In Case" [Audio Tape]: 1977

"Harvey's life was theater."

- Anne Kronenberg, Oscars interview: 2009

The life and politics of Harvey Bernard Milk have inspired a documentary, an acclaimed feature film, books of poetry and short fiction, and an opera. His final recording, made a year before his death on November 27, 1978, is held under carefully restricted access at the Library of Congress. The suit he was wearing on the day he died is on display in San Francisco, and you can pay to see it. Just over thirty years after his death, Milk has become a queer popular icon, as well as a cinematic and literary commodity.

This volume aims to explore the broad 'queer politics' of Milk's life and times, including his influences, allies, patrons, adversaries, and critics. Randy Shilts has pointed out in The Mayor of Castro Street that Milk had scores of under-credited political allies in his campaign for city controller, including Anne Kronenberg, Michael Wong, Jose Sarria, and Diane Feinstein. His debts to lesbian, bisexual, and trans communities, black and latino/a supporters, and global queer liberation movements go largely unacknowledged within Gus Van Sant's wildly successful Milk (2008), which won an Oscar while managing to keep only straight, marketable actors for its principle roles. Virtually none of Anne Kronenberg's observations and analyses, so prevalent and important within the documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, are made visible within Van Sant's film.

Given the available archives of LGBT history, what do we have left to piece together, analyze, and critique what was happening at the height of Milk's political presence in San Francisco, California, roughly from 1969-1978? How do we go back further, to the global queer communities that existed before Stonewall? How did queerness enjoy improvisational and theatrical temporalities within a variety of public urban spaces—beaches, bars, galleries, parks, bathrooms, and movie houses? All of these local, historical, and cultural movements undergird and support what Milk defined as 'the gay movement.' But many queer theorists have criticized contemporary work on gay history as being obsessed with the stories of gay white men. Larry Kramer's passionate essay, "The Trouble With Today's Gays," devotes multiple pages to excoriating queer youth for being lazy, stupid, apolitical, and ultimately suicidal. What sort of a document, then, is Van Sant's Milk, which now enters a canon of queer media that has long neglected the stories of radicals of color and trans activists who fought for Milk's campaign?
Proposals may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following clusters:

- Queer politics in California

- Proposition 6, Proposition 8, the Briggs Initiative, Anita Bryant

- Gay urban neighborhoods and their civic possibilities/limitations

- Queer rhetoric and speech-making (see Karen Foss's essay on Milk in Queering Public Address, edited by E. Morris).

- Analyses of Randy Shiltz's The Mayor of Castro Street, as well as its relation to his future publication on the AIDS crisis in the United States, And the Band Played On.

- Groups and corporations that worked with (and against) Harvey's campaign: the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, the Black Panthers, the Alice B. Toklas Society, the Advocate Newspaper, Coors, Pa Fuera, and others.

- The adaptation and transformation of Milk's politics by future political groups such as ACT UP, FIERCE, and Gay Shame, as well as punk, DIY, zinester, and queercore groups.

- Analyses and critiques of periodization (i.e., Stonewall) within LGBT studies

- Readings of adaptive and remediative texts, such as Stewart Wallace's opera, Leslie Newman's book of short stories, the new 'pictorial history' book of Milk's life and career, Rob Epstein's documentary, and of course Van Sant's film.

- Critical biographical/historical studies of Milks' political contemporaries

- The Harvey Milk School and the Hetrick-Martin Institute in Manhattan; the Triangle Institute in Toronto

- Milk Studies and the teaching of LGBT history, cinema, and documentary in secondary and post-secondary institutions.
Send abstracts as .doc files or PDF files (2pgs double-space max) to:


by no later than July 30/2009

Jes Battis
Assistant Professor of English
University of Regina
3737 Wascana Parkway
Regina, SK S4S 0A2