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116 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gay Struggle Personified
Gus Van Sant has always been an excellent if somewhat eclectic director. Although I have enjoyed his previous efforts, I was somewhat apprehensive when I heard he was undertaking a film biography of Harvey Milk. A gay figure of this importance, I thought, should be handled by someone a little more mainstream. Like many gay people, I am weary of gay-themed films that...
Published on February 10, 2009 by James Morris

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reverential but Flawed
Milk is a reverential and loving portrayal of the Mayor of Castro Street, the late Harvey Milk, a man who was indeed both a product of his time and a man ahead of his time. And perhaps in this reverence we find the greatest flaw of the movie.

Sean Penn certainly deserved the Oscar as it is a nuanced performance, though I can't say that the screenplay deserved...
Published on March 15, 2009 by Paul G. Bens, Jr.


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116 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gay Struggle Personified, February 10, 2009
By 
James Morris (Syracuse, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Milk (DVD)
Gus Van Sant has always been an excellent if somewhat eclectic director. Although I have enjoyed his previous efforts, I was somewhat apprehensive when I heard he was undertaking a film biography of Harvey Milk. A gay figure of this importance, I thought, should be handled by someone a little more mainstream. Like many gay people, I am weary of gay-themed films that reach no one beyond a gay audience, and the message I would want to emerge from a film about Harvey Milk should be heard by everyone.

As if reading my mind, Mr. Van Sant has fashioned a film that is accessible to all, while approaching his subject with sharp focus and a singleness of purpose that is at once definitive and topical. A stunning achievement, MILK manages to make its point without ever being preachy or trite, while remaining as true to the facts as any film bio could ever hope to be.

The film opens with snippets of gay history that many young gay people, let alone a straight audience, may be shocked to discover. During the opening credits, a barrage of vintage film clips remind us that a scant 50 years ago, gay men, lesbians and transsexuals were subjected to violence, harassment, physical abuse, arrest and humiliation by the very people that most citizens look to for protection; i.e. the police and judicial authorities. The newsreel images of gay bar raids that open MILK project a surreal yet somehow eerily familiar atmosphere that seems to alternate between the bizarre and the barbaric. Many people today are not aware that, in the 1940's and 1950's, right here in the USA, gay people were arrested for simply patronizing a gay bar (newspaper headline: "Den of Perverts Busted"). Many of those arrested had their names and employers published in the morning paper (!), and often found themselves unemployed and unemployable, branded with the label of "deviate". It is this chilling fact of social injustice that clears the way for the film's swing into a very important piece of gay history.

Skillfully telling us the story of Milk's rise as a leader in the Castro Gay Community of San Francisco, Harvey Milk is seen throughout the film as a living, breathing flesh and blood person. Van Sant adroitly propels Sean Penn through a warts-and-all portrayal of a frail human being with an idealistic bent and a politician's savvy. As with any good film, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern which is more impressive - the balance of a perfect cast and lovingly detailed direction weave their way through a seamless portrait of an important historical figure, yet we are somberly reminded that many people remember Harvey Milk solely for the "Twinkie" defense of his star-crossed killer. The end result is that gay audiences emerge from seeing this film with a sense of pride and purpose, while straight audiences leave with a better knowledge of who we (gay people) are, what we want, and what we are struggling for. By word of mouth I expected a thrilling cinematic experience; what I got was a surprisingly near-perfect motion picture and some of the best acting I've ever seen. I heartily recommend MILK to any straight person who wants to get a grasp on what the last 30 years of gay history were really all about, and any gay person who wants to feel good about themselves. MILK is a triumph. See it.
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61 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story that will teach tolerance, December 10, 2008
The movie portrays a brave man.The movie "Milk" showed that any man who stands by his principles, will always leave a lesson to be learned.

The advances that the Gay communities of California have made in the past 30 years started with the Harvey Milk story.I have been a San Francisco Police officer for 24 years.I am proud to have known a few very brave S.F.P.D. officers who happen to have been gay.

In this state,the advances made for gay people for their civil rights and equal rights,begin with the Milk story.

I was in the movie and I played a real police officer at a homicide scene.The murder of Robert Hillsbough. The hates crimes committed against gays in this city back in the 1970's were over the top.
I was honored to have, done my simple scene with Sean Penn.

I was honored to have been a member of that cast.Check out the cast on the web [...]

I know the damages that Dan White caused our city,and my Department.
It was a very sad day.

I can say this much about that tragic man.Besides being a former cop, and fireman a little talked about fact about Dan White. He was also a Viet Nam veteran.He served in the same unit that I was in in Viet Nam, the 173rd airborne. He served one year in the central highlands. We came home suffering along with 1000'S of other combat vets, suffering from P.T.S.D. He committed suicide after his release from prison. He was buried with full honors in the Veteran cemetery in San Bruno Calif.

It was not called that at the time of his trail. The fact that a man who was an Irish Catholic, a former Police officer, and a Viet Nam vet who could not, and did not seek help.The movie kind of showed that Milk made every effort to befriend Dan White.How Dan White did not understand that he was responsible to do the right thing. The murder of those two innocent men makes me sad, to know that In my life I walked the same paths.

I think a lot of school teacher's will be able to add this movie to list of movies that teach tolerance.As a straight guy, I was honored to be in the movie.I wanted people to understand tolerance.
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84 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, November 30, 2008
By 
Allow me to agree with at least one other reviewer that everyone should see this, especially those who think being gay is so far out of the mainstream that, as my father in law once said, "The Lord allowed AIDS to happen."

Harvey Milk. A man of whom I know little. I lived on the other side of the world when he died, in a city in which it was not unusual to run into eunuchs. I'd heard of him since, in reference to gayness, but never associated any importance to him. Then I saw that Sean Penn was playing Milk, so I told my spouse that we need to see it.

Milk, it seemed, lived a pretty conventional lifestyle, working for an insurance company in New York. According to the script, anyway, in 1970 he met a flame and they headed to the west coast. Despite local resistance, they set up shop in the Castro district of San Francisco (after "The Haight" had become riddled with crime, homelessness and the like). Milk then decided it was time to get politically active.

In this portion of the film, I thought for a while that I was going to suffer from motion sickness. The camera seemed to move quite rapidly, and cut from the scene they were shooting to a historical scene, and back. But I adjusted. And Milk lost the first election, then the second, then the third. That, believe it or not, didn't take too much time for the film to get across, except that Milk's lover, Scott (played by James Franco) left after he said he couldn't take another one. That's when the action started (!)

I'm not gay, and have never been terribly sympathetic to many of the gay causes. At least I never payed much attention to 'em. Yeah, I heard outrageous statements like I quoted above, but I just disregarded them. After this film, my spouse felt guilty that she didn't know much about the Milk case. I pointed out that she wasn't exposed to it much. Even to this day many of the gay "causes" aren't seen as so mainstream. They're seen as somewhat fringe. Some alleged "gay eccentricities" may have added to that exclusion, and I believe the film included that element. Indeed, that's why Harvey Milk decided to go to Orange County, CA, without his gay supporters, and debate State Senator Briggs, played by Dennis O'Hare, the proponent of Proposition 6, a gay rights provision to which gays were opposed, on his own terms. And it paid off! The proposition was defeated!

Throughout the film, Milk was reciting a testament into his tape recorder, to be played only if he were assasinated. I wish I knew whether Milk really did that or whether it was added to the film for "effect." Either way, it was the adhesive that kept the film together.

The historical clips also added to the film's credibility, especially those of Anita Bryant. After Bryant's success in some anti-gay initiatives around the country, Milk decided to bring her causes to the attention of the people of California, and that's where the Proposition 6 movement began.

There's so much I could say about the film. I don't want to cover anything of the murder case, as I'll give too much away. The acting was definitely Oscar material, especially for Sean Penn. The script and music were award-winning. But the reason I endorse it--especially for those most opposed to gay rights--is that it shows that those rights are no less constitutional or mainstream than the rights of blacks, women, or any other groups which have had to labor hard for the last 230 years!

Whether the film was timed to come out--no pun intended--after California's Proposition 8, I don't know. But it's well timed in terms of trying to educate people as to why those right should be guaranteed.

Today we have people like Keith Olbermann to editorialize on those who opposed Proposition 8. We can thank God for Harvey Milk, the "first openly gay" person in politics in the US, for having opened to doors for those contemporay editorials.

It's also, by the way, a testament to the cause of political activism in general; most activists find themselves in a rut deeper than that of Milk and his associates. This film may remind them to persist!

See this gem, and make sure those challenged by gay rights see it. Discuss it with them. Someday then we will be able to proclaim that "all men are created equal."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Flawless Movie, March 18, 2009
This review is from: Milk [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I have noticed that the "1" and "2" starred reviews for "Milk" have been deleted and that disturbs me. Even if some ignorant pinhead writes something predictable such as "Sean Penn is a traitor" or "Hollywood is shoving the gay lifestyle down our throats" or "this goes against American values" there is such a thing as freedom of speech and even the simple minded have a right to be heard.

That being said "Milk", the latest movie by gifted director Gus Van Sant, is a success in every way. The movie tells the story of Harvey Milk, a man who ran for San Fransisco city supervisor several times, and lost, but eventually won an election in 1978. The reason why this was such a controversial election, of course was that Harvey Milk was a gay man who made no apologies for his sexual orientation. Although Milk is by no means a perfect human being he fights of challenges from the religious and conservative right who believed homosexuals were deviants and should not be allowed to be school teachers or belong in a 'civilized' society.

Harvey Milk is presented not as a man who is trying to shove anything in anyone's face, but as a man who is sick of being told there is something wrong with him and who wants the freedom to live without being told he is sick or he has some disease.

They key to the movie's greatness is, of course, Sean Penn's performance as Milk. Never once did I think I was watching Sean Penn pretend to be Harvey Milk. I was watching Harvey Milk the entire time. The key to a great performance is when you can forget this is an actor playing a character, the rest of the cast, including James Franco and Josh Brolin, also do an outstanding job.

"Milk" is not gay cinema. It's just great cinema.

Peace
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, March 13, 2009
By 
This review is from: Milk (DVD)
There's not much I can really add to the reviews that have already been given to this movie, so I'll simply echo its brilliance and importance and the way it grabs onto your attention, and your emotions, and never lets go. There is some amazing acting to be found here and no one over-acts or under-acts. Sean Penn was extremely deserving of his Oscar; I can't tell you how happy I was when his name was called, as when as when best original screenplay one the Oscar.

I really hope more people will give this movie a chance now that it's out on DVD. There are no more excuses to be made!
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He's Here to Recruit You, December 4, 2008
By 
At this point, I think it's safe to say that we can all depend on Sean Penn. What an amazingly versatile actor, gifted with the ability to transform himself into virtually anyone from virtually any background. Even the God-awful 2006 remake of "All the King's Men" was made better by his portrayal of Willie Stark. He shines once again in Gus Van Sant's "Milk," a film that chronicles the final years of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in California. Before his assassination in 1978, he managed to become a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and was the driving force behind a number of demonstrations that challenged many anti-gay initiatives. His story could not be more perfectly timed; I live in California, where, in the last election, a proposition to ban same-sex marriage (Prop 8) was put on the ballot. I'm sorry to say that it passed (although, as of the date of this writing, the ruling is being challenged in California's Supreme Court).

But social and political commentaries aren't the sum of the film's parts. "Milk" is a rich, enlightening character study, probing deeply into the minds of very different people. This brings me back to Sean Penn, who certainly had his work cut out for him as the title character. As an activist, Milk was such a unique personality--outrageous, bold, and even a bit theatrical, yet refreshingly earnest and straightforward at the same time. His beginnings, on the other hand, were much more conservative, and he kept it that way throughout most of his adult life. The story proper begins in 1970 on the eve of his fortieth birthday, at which point he's an insurance statistician in New York City. On the steps of a deserted subway station, he meets Scott Smith (James Franco). The two quickly become lovers, move to San Francisco, and open a camera shop in the Castro district.

And yet, something is missing for Milk. "I'm forty years old," he observes, "and I haven't done a thing I'm proud of." Tired of guarding his sexuality and sick of the way law enforcement has been handling hate crimes, he soon establishes himself as a community activist, advocating equality for all. It isn't long before his political ambitions grow, and by 1975, he was ready to cut his hair, abstain from marijuana, and seriously pursue a position in city government. Three all-consuming, unsuccessful campaigns drive a wedge between Milk and Smith; by the time Milk is finally elected as a representative for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, their relationship cools to a mere friendship. At this point, Milk has recruited Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), a young activist, and Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), a lesbian campaign manager. They do whatever they can to rally supporters, especially now that Milk is trying to pass a city ordinance that would protect people--many of them teachers--from being fired because of their sexual orientation. He faces an uphill battle with the Christian Right, specifically Senator John Briggs (Denis O'Hare) and singer/former orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant (seen only in actual archival news footage).

He faces a battle of a different kind with Dan White (Josh Brolin), a Board Supervisor Milk suspects of being a closeted homosexual, despite his staunch anti-gay stance. Indeed, there's something both odd and desperate about White's behavior towards Milk, inviting him to his son's christening, showing up at Milk's birthday party drunk and shouting that he's got issues too. As White grows more and more resentful of Milk and his inner circle of political allies--specifically Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garbor)--we see less of a political figure and more of a man on the brink of emotional collapse.

There's a fascinating association between the film's political message and Van Sant's cinematic creativity. A few select moments are true narrative masterstrokes, and they each involve quiet yet profound reflections in shiny objects. One of the earliest takes place early in Milk's political career, at which point gays in San Francisco were issued whistles; when Milk arrives at the crime scene of a murdered young man, his conversation with a police officer is shown entirely as a reflection off of a blood stained whistle. Another moment takes place much later on in White's living room, after Milk had established himself as a prominent politician. White's television set displays Milk in the middle of a news interview; we see White's reflection in the bottom left corner of the screen, and while we don't know what he's thinking, we do know that he's interested in what Milk is saying.

One of the most striking subplots involves Milk and his new lover, Jack Lira (Diego Luna), who quickly proves that he's ill-equipped to handle Milk's rising political clout. He's painfully insecure, and it only gets worse as Milk's schedule goes from heavy to full. Lira clings to Milk like a frightened animal, which is understandable but also pathetic. The real sorrow comes from the fact that Milk was too busy fighting a good fight to take any notice. What if he didn't have anything to fight against? What if there was no discrimination? "Milk" will no doubt inspire many people, but it's also likely to infuriate many others. If you're like me, then you might feel a little bit of both. Why are we still at a point where equality has to be fought for? Are we not in the twenty-first century? Shouldn't we have gotten over this issue a long time ago? It's sad to leave a movie theater and realize that not much has changed in thirty years.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TALK ABOUT FLASHBACKS!!!!!, November 26, 2008
By 
S. Clarke "frogclaw" (Oakland, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I totally agree with Amos Lassen in his long synopsis.

I was there when Harvey Milk became a Supervisor, I was there when he was assassinated, I am still there long after, and I will never get over this tragedy. Unbelievable movie. Everyone should see this movie.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sean Penn Tour-de-Force, February 28, 2009
By 
This review is from: Milk (DVD)
"Milk" stars Sean Penn in the title role of Harvey Milk, a closeted gay man who moved from New York to San Francisco in 1972. There he came out of the closet and opened a camera shop in the Castro District, an area experiencing a huge influx of gays and lesbians. He ran for political office unsuccessfully several times on a platform that included workers' issues and education as well as the rights of gays and other minorities, and finally won an election for city supervisor. He led several battles against anti-gay initiatives in California.
Penn presents Milk primarily as outspoken activist, community organizer, and champion of civil rights for gay Americans. Director Van Sant combines actual news and archival footage with footage of his actors to illustrate seamlessly the 1970's era that saw the birth of the gay rights movement in the United States.
"Milk," however, is more than just the tale of a firebrand working up the populace into action. It's a movie about one person spearheading a movement to give voice to a minority that had been forced into hiding. By fighting for the right to live without persecution, the gay community became a visible, political force that voted its mind at the polls. Milk worked to organize and inspire his constituency out of complacency and acceptance of intimidation to active protest and demands. It started in California, but quickly spread across the country.
Mr. Penn does some of his finest work in "Milk." From his slicked down hair to his softly Brooklyn-tinged voice to his self-assured swagger, Penn provides an amazing characterization of a man who, in his 40's, finally found a purpose and the wherewithal to achieve it.
There is a self-deprecating facet to Penn's performance. His Harvey can make jokes at his own expense while taking his cause seriously. Mr. Penn captures the folk-hero quality of Milk while never losing sight of Harvey the man. We see him as a flawed individual, not happy in his previous pursuits and as terrified of discovery as most gay people of the time, but ultimately inspired by injustice to be the voice of protest and change.
The movie shows how that change comes in stages. What starts as periodic clashes with the police leads to grass-roots organization for the purpose of declaring themselves to the larger society and persuade the world that they are entitled to the same rights as anybody else. Milk recruits average folks -- mostly gay -- who can summon a crowd of 1,000 protesters on a moment's notice or get endorsements from local newspapers.
Among these associates are Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), and photographer Danny Nicoletta (Lucas Grabeel). We're also introduced to two of Milk's boyfriends, Scott Smith (James Franco) and Jack Lira (Diego Luna).
Scott seems to be the inspiration for Harvey to embark on a more meaningful course. Franco is entirely believable in some intimate scenes with Penn. It's in the early scenes, in his conversations with Scott, that we see Harvey's frustration at approaching his 40th birthday and not really having done anything significant. He's ready for a change. They leave New York together to resettle in San Francisco only to find a not-too-welcoming introduction to the Castro District's businessmen.
Josh Brolin plays Dan White, a fellow city supervisor, who shares an unusual collegial relationship with Milk. Staunchly in favor of preserving "family values" and blocking any pro-gay legislation, White is an enigma. As portrayed in the movie, he doesn't have many friends, appears uncomfortable at the inroads the gay community is making in California, is dissatisfied with his job as city supervisor because of its low pay, and ultimately is jealous of the media attention Milk is getting while he remains anonymous. Brolin continues to associate himself with top-quality motion pictures. Excellent in "No Country for Old Men," "American Gangster," and "W.," he continues his winning streak in "Milk."
Rated R, "Milk" won the Best Actor Academy Award for Penn, and was nominated for Best Picture. The script by Dustin Lance Black moves quickly and presents the events of Milk's life in dramatic, fascinating fashion. The film is extremely timely in light of California's passage of Proposition 8, which bars same-sex marriages. Though Harvey Milk fought vigorously thirty years ago for gays to receive the same rights as all other Americans, it seems the fight isn't over.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reverential but Flawed, March 15, 2009
By 
Paul G. Bens, Jr. (Los Angeles, California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Milk (DVD)
Milk is a reverential and loving portrayal of the Mayor of Castro Street, the late Harvey Milk, a man who was indeed both a product of his time and a man ahead of his time. And perhaps in this reverence we find the greatest flaw of the movie.

Sean Penn certainly deserved the Oscar as it is a nuanced performance, though I can't say that the screenplay deserved the accolades it has received. Likewise I don't understand why Josh Brolin was nominated as it was a spectacularly un-memorable and one-note performance (due, in large part, to it being written that way.) Emile Hirsch and James Franco (the latter being someone I don't really care for) were excellent.

Perhaps the main problem I had with the film is that Milk himself was portrayed rather saintly, so as far as a representation of the man, I thought it was written rather one-dimensionally. And knowing a bit of his biography, he wasn't as saintly as he was portrayed. Certainly he did many good things, but the film seems to focus solely on that and not other aspects of his personality. In all, this was probably expected considering that to the screenwriter, Milk was nearly a patron saint. Still, it would have been nice to see more dimensionality. Had they delved more into the relationship between Milk and the "A-gays" I think we would have seen that more. Also, if we'd seen more of the political maneuverings, we would have seen a more rounded, more real-person Milk.

Another problem I had was that there was, apparently, only one lesbian in San Francisco. Where were all the Lesbians? Likewise, there were two Asian guys and one off-balance Latino guy in San Francisco. Even the "extras" were peopled with mostly white people. Yes, I know that Milk's inner circle was primarily white guys, but people of color were instrumental during that fight and it really bothered me that in a story set in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, during a battle in which people of color were instrumental, it all comes of rather...white. Even the city itself comes off rather white. This as well was a big problem for me.

As a piece of film making, Milk works and it is well enough crafted. As a piece of gay film making, it does a pretty nice job of giving a positive portrayal of gay men, something sorely lacking in mainstream films. They just missed some dimensionality, the gay women and the people of color, and those omissions, to me, were major, major faults with the film.

Not brilliant, Milk is certainly a film worth watching for both its artistic value and for documenting a time which was an important milestone in American history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Civil Rights Makes a Small Step Forward, March 20, 2009
By 
Mark J. Fowler "Let's Play Two!" (Blytheville, Arkansas (The "the" is silent)) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Milk (DVD)
The Mrs. And I viewed "Milk" last night and we both liked it, but I think with different degrees of appreciation and for different reasons.

We wanted to see all of the films nominated for major Academy Awards before the awards were announced, but we missed "Doubt", "The Wrestler" and "Milk". We both thought Sean Penn was good in the role of Harvey Milk, but the Mrs. Opined "I'm not sure he deserved the Oscar... now we have to see The Wrestler. (To see the acclaimed performance of Mickey Roarke)"

I'm not so certain, although I'll reserve personal judgment until seeing The Wrestler as well. About thirty minutes before the ending of Milk I'm watching Sean Penn in a scene wearing a T-Shirt, meeting Denis O'Hare as California State Senator John Briggs. It occurred to me "I can hardly believe this is the same actor from Mystic River. Or Bad Boys. Or Dead Man Walking." You get the idea. With the same body and face Penn was a completely different person. The body language and voice even made him appear markedly different. I've seen reviews saying Penn becomes unrecognizable in this role as Harvey Milk. I was always aware that I was watching Sean Penn - but I saw no flaws in this performance.

Penn is ably supported by the almost all-male cast including Josh Brolin as fellow San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, James Franco as lover Scott Smith, Victor Garber as Mayor Moscone and Emile Hirsch as cruiser turned Gay activist Cleve Jones. Alison Pill has the only significant female role as Anne Kronenberg, a political operative who is brought in after Milk fails a couple of campaigns because she is more macho than Milk's previous inner circle. She obtains Harvey's first newspaper endorsement - a significant step.

I was a child during the time this film was set, and the thought occurred to me "why should there be a politician whose entire political agenda is based on a non-majority sexual preference?" Put another way - if a heterosexual person were running for office, would it be pertinent if their entire platform were based on their heterosexuality and their only agenda were the rights of heterosexuals? The answer, of course, is that no serious political attempts have ever been made to remove the civil rights of heterosexuals. If politicians are trying to take away your jobs, and even threatening people who support you, you have to fight back.

(A side note: I think about the recent avalanche of laws trying to prevent same-sex marriage, and I wonder how far universal civil rights have advanced. I recently voted against a measure in my home state that passed - defining marriage as only possible between one man and one woman.)

We have come, perhaps, a few steps forward. A few years ago I heard local radio talk shows paint "Brokeback Mountain" as the Gay Cowboy movie. This year I don't recall a single discussion about the Gay Politician movie.
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Milk
Milk by Gus Van Sant (DVD - 2009)
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