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Harvey Milk's life illuminated in 'Interviews'
BOOKS
by Alex Lubischer
2012-04-25

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In The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words, editor Vince Emery has compiled a book that chronicles the gay rights pioneer's life, struggles and strategies, primarily as told by Milk himself. The 39 interviews, which have never before been published in a book, span Milk's political career from his first days as a candidate for San Francisco's board of supervisors in 1973 until mere weeks before his assassination in 1978.

When asked what inspired him to compile and edit "Interviews," Emery said, "In this book, Milk explains his strategies and also his plans—what he hoped to do before he was assassinated. … I'm hoping that people who don't know more about Milk will be inspired to take action by reading the book." Emery then laughed and added, "And it's gratifying because it took a heck of a lot of work to put it together."

Emery, a resident of San Francisco, was aided in his mission to unearth new information about Milk by his proximity to the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center in San Francisco's Public Library. The center, described on its website as "the gateway to collections documenting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history and culture," is home to many of Milk's papers as well as the archives of The Mayor of Castro Street author Randy Shiltz. Emery conducted more investigative work at San Francisco's GLBT Historical Society. Additionally, he scoured the Bay Area's television archives for interviews on Milk.

"Interviews," took Emery nearly three years to complete, and was originally intended to be finished by 2010. " I actually started it thinking, 'Well, this will be a valuable book and it won't take that long to do,'" said Emery. "I was wrong about the second half."

Emery noted that obtaining the rights to various interviews was one of the more difficult parts of the process. Whoever originally recorded various radio interviews and televised debates owned the rights to those recordings, and most of the contents obtained for the book were not public interviews. Emery said the compilation of "Interviews" required a lot of "detective work" and some Indiana Jones-esque moments of discovery.

One anecdote Emery recounted was his discovery of a recording of the longest "Briggs vs. Milk" debate on eBay. In the recording, Milk and California State Senator John Briggs debated the infamous Proposition 6 Briggs Initiative, a 1978 California proposition that, had it passed, would have removed gay teachers from public schools. After Emery acquired the recording, he had to "hunt down" the owner to obtain the rights to publish it. Fortunately, Dan Nicoletto, a former employee of Milk's store, Castro Camera, aided him in his quest.

The Briggs debate portion of "Interviews" is as exciting as it is informative. In one televised interview, in which no formalized debate structure was established, the verbal sparring between Briggs and Milk reads like a teleplay. These and other passages are marked by Milk's superb wit. "Here is a man who loved to talk and did it well," said Emery.

Emery had originally considered editing Brigg's lengthy speeches out of the debates before he decided to publish them in full. "It's really important for people to see these arguments," said Emery. "I was surprised that some of these same arguments, even though they're not valid, people are still using exactly the same arguments today. I think it's good that they are in here because you can see Harvey's countermoves to Briggs' arguments."

In another of the book's noteworthy interviews from 1978, Milk spoke on Los Angeles-based radio reporter Greg Gordon's program This Way Out, now the oldest LGBT-focused radio program in the United States. Milk cautioned that stamping out gay rights was often a precursor to the oppression of other minorities. Milk cited pre-Nazi Germany's prominent gay movement, which was "more advanced than the gay movement of San Francisco in 1978," as an example.

"Milk did see himself as very active for LGBT rights but he saw that in the spectrum of all minorities," said Emery. "He saw that if any minority was having its rights taken away, that would lead to rights being removed for everyone. That's why I put the quote that I did on the front cover of the book: 'I stand for the equal rights of all people.'"

In the wake of Proposition 8 being passed in California, Emery stressed his hope that this book will inspire people to keep involved and take action. "Milk saw that you can't have freedom, you can't have human rights, for one group of people if you're cutting them off for other groups of people," said Emery. "So gay rights do protect rights for everyone. I firmly believe he was absolutely right in that. … And, hopefully, that's something that people will read."

The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words by Harvey Milk will be available for purchase May 1. For additional info, visit www.emerybooks.com .


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