Today, I marched for Harvey Milk.
As I looked at our crowd of walkers, I saw nothing but different faces, ages, sizes, shapes, clothing, accents, gender, sexual orientation, race, religions and economic class. Today, Sunday May 22 2011, St. Louis celebrated Harvey Milk's birthday by marching from The Grove district all the way east to St. Louis City Hall. Nearly 5 miles in total did we march for Harvey. What was more impressive was the amount of people who gathered early at the beginning of our march, the new location for the LGBT Center of St. Louis. They all came to support a place they want to call "HOPE" not just home.
I knew it the moment I met the crowd of folks standing outside of the center, that Harvey was smiling down on us. Harvey would have not changed one thing today. It was the perfect spot to start a march, in our city and in honor of this leader's legacy. Often, Harvey Milk opened us his own personal Castro district camera shop doors to host random meetings. Many times the rallies or Pride parades that took happened at night, were organized during the afternoon in Milk's very own home. This is the future of our very own LGBT Center. What will our center's sofa's and space bring to our city next? Harvey new darn well about community organizing and it starts with an invitation and then making a relationship. Today, Harvey shook everyone's hand who peeked through the doors of 4337 Manchester Avenue. I truly felt his spirit in that space.
The weather was just perfect and I would not change one thing about today.
As we walked down Manchester Avenue, we looked at the sidewalks of LGBTQ friendly businesses smile back at us. They waved from bars, shops and clubs that have called the Grove home for years. And then we found ourselves under the Time Square-esque "Grove" neon sign and I knew we were leaving our comfort zone. I thought, "will the group think I am nuts?"
But onward Queer soldiers we marched.
"When I say Harvey you say Milk... Harvey (MILK) - Harvey (MILK) - Harvey (MILK)..." echoed the crossover from Manchester Avenue to Chouteau Avenue.
That's when I noticed something very different this year than last year's march. There were nearly no cars passing us who cursed us being there. Gone were the, "Go home faggots," or "Shut up and get a job," jabs. For the most part, we shared the road with kind, considerate and supportive drivers who seemed to enjoy waiting for our march to make its way. I clearly watch parents slide down their automatic car windows so children in the back seat can watch us. I waved to about 40 kids who waved right back at us. Graduation ready families looked out of their rental cars and looked at our 20 foot rainbow flag -- paused -- and then pressed on their car horns in full support of our march for Harvey.
Mid-way of our walking route, around Jefferson and Chouteau, I became "hopeful." I immediately thought of Harvey's words about giving people "hope." Then I thought I should give them extra hope because we have made it 2 miles. I felt this is especially important if you are going to ask 100 people to march on a Sunday afternoon, you know, give them hope to keep moving. It was nice to give them inspiring words on my megaphone; however, it was even more powerful to watch the crowd give each other inspiring words on the megaphone. This march I made a conscience effort to hand over the megaphone to people who was inspired by Harvey. Walkers helped each other to keep walking; to keep the love; to preach equality and justice.
Our route took us directly through a kaleidoscope of city streets; over old and new concrete bridges; around the edges of quiet forgotten industrial businesses; and right into the neighborhoods plagued by years and years of blight. There's something about crossing that half-way point and seeing the Arch in the distance that gave me pause. I felt like I saw Harvey sitting on top of our silver Arch, looking directly at us. I really saw Harvey's face and he looked happy, smiling, laughing and alive.
Harvey Milk didn't look bad for 81 - really.
Harvey was happy to see all the walkers chanting his words. And I believe what made him most happy was that we remembered him without any big fanfares. It's like I saw him peek. No parade floats. No shirtless men tossing rainbow beads. We didn't walk on Main Street; rather, we honored Harvey in the places where he would walk -- where the forgotten live, work and play. This is why we march for Harvey along the silent Chouteau Avenue and not Market Street, or Lindell, or even Big Bend. Milk was about walking in the trenches, giving people who needed hope the most. Sending the message of, "love thy neighbor," where neighbors need loving. And again how fitting today to take our first marching step at the home of the new LGBT Center, 4337 Manchester Avenue.
Thanks St. Louis for remembering Harvey; we made him proud.