Was Van Sant afraid that audiences wouldn’t be sympathetic if 70s-era gay activists were people who suffered, swore, fought back, and fucked like they meant it? If the street kids actually looked like dirty, starving, broke-ass teen hustlers?
Gay history — unedited — is ugly, angry, and violent. It’s police dragging us out of cellar bars and down to the station to gang fuck the femmes and face-rape the butches, queens, and trannies. It’s military witch hunts; suicides and “experimental therapies,” from lobotomies and electro-shock to Christian boot camps. It’s Stonewall, where we showered raiding police with bottles, locked them in the bar, and set it afire. It’s ACT UP and chaining ourselves to pharmaceutical companies’ fences to protest AIDS drugs price gouging.
Van Sant’s gentrified Milk reflects gay activism’s increasingly apologetic tone. We don’t always need to be burning police cars to prove our cred, but we shouldn’t be inviting homophobes to the table, then singing their praises if they don’t spit on us. It’s not about hugging Rick Warren and being satisfied that at least he’s being nice about denying us our civil rights. Politeness has become homophobia’s most popular mask.” — Columnist and author of The Gender Politics of HIV/AIDS in Women Nancy Goldstein on Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biopic of gay rights leader Harvey Milk.