Milk, “You’ve Got to Have Hope,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities

A. Develop classroom dialogues around the following propositions:

Resolved:        Harvey Milk’s emphasis on populism diminished the power of LGBTQ communities as primary agents.

Resolved:        The “hope trope,” while powerful, had limited utility in the face of manifest exigencies for the LGBTQ community and other oppressed communities.

B. Discuss Harvey Milk’s audiences. How did he address hardcore members of the LGBTQ community, more moderate members of the LGBTQ community, straight-oppositional audiences, straight-allied audiences, oppressed groups, and those in the dominant public (i.e., governmental officials and business leaders)? What language did he use to address these different audiences?

C. Identify the social, economic, and political imperatives that might have motivated the dominant public to reject Milk’s messages of LGBTQ strength and social change.

D. In the essay, much is made of public memory and the ways that Harvey Milk and his legacy can be drawn upon in contemporary issues about both LGBTQ politics and subaltern politics generally.  Discuss the implications of drawing on/from Milk’s memory.  Moreover, what is the overall utility of relying on memories of key leaders of social change overall?

E. In the essay, the authors discuss the potential absence and/or obscuring of GLTBQ histories.  What is the impact of such an erasure?  How can this erasure be addressed and corrected?  Provide prescriptive ways that these LGBTQ histories can be brought to bear on more contemporary issues.

F. Issues about the “agency” of the reader/critic abound in rhetorical studies.  Considering that every reader brings to bear their own ideologies, subjectivities, and politics to the texts that they read, how might a heterosexual audience/critic interpret Milk’s address?  How might folks identifying as LGBTQ interpret Milk’s address?  Be sure to discuss these possible interpretations over key issues mentioned in the essay, including coalition-building, populism, the idea of hope, and the importance of GLTBQ-centered leadership.

Student Research

A. Use four different research tools (web sites, academic articles, newspaper archives, speeches, books, audio-visual media, etc.) to learn about twentieth century LGBTQ histories and issues before, during, and after Harvey Milk’s time.  What are some key moments of dispute, controversy, sources of pride and liberation, and/or confrontation that may have precipitated the increased activism of LGBTQ peoples and movements?

B. Use four different research tools (web sites, academic articles, newspaper archives, speeches, books, audio-visual media, etc.) to learn about the history ofSan Franciscoin terms of its place in the larger U.S. LGBTQ movement.

C. What is the relationship between victim and survivor in Milk’s address?  How does he balance positioning LGBTQ and disenfranchised groups as oppressed, while also demonstrating their strength and pride?  How does such a balance impact a rhetor’s ethos and the identity of those audiences whom he addresses?

D. Using an appropriate textbook or academic article, look up the term “social movement” and discuss whether you think Milk’s efforts for social change fit into the definition’s parameters.  Do your findings affect the way you “read” and analyze the speech’s impact, as well as its form, substance, and style?

E. Accessing “genre criticism,” make an argument for how Milk’s speech falls into a particular category of public discourse based on situation/exigence, style, form, and content.

F. Locate two other pieces of LGBTQ discourse from Milk’s time.  What are the arguments made?  Are they similar to Milk’s speech?  Different?  How so?

G. Locate two other pieces of LGBTQ discourse from more contemporary times.  What are the arguments made?  Are they similar to Milk’s speech?  Different?  How so?

H. Locate contemporary discourses of LGBTQ peoples and ascertain if, and how, Harvey Milk’s legacy is relied upon in their arguments.

I. Recalling Milk’s emphasis on “hope,” find other instances of this theme in social movement discourse from other social change groups like the Abolitionist movement, the Suffrage movement, the Farm Workers Union, the mainstream Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the Women’s Rights/Feminist movements, the La Raza movement, Native American movements, Pan-Asian movements, labor unions, etc.  How do these movements’ use of “hope” compare or contrast to Milk’s discourse?

Citizenship Resources

A. Review a civic web site (i.e., Lambda or PFLAG), a national archival repository (i.e., Library of Congress online), a local archive or library collection, etc. and identify the ways that these locations catalog and present LGBTQ resources and discourses.  How does this presentation impact the presence and/or absence of LGBTQ voices in the “archive”?

B. Contact a LGBTQ-centered organization (i.e., PFLAG, Lambda) and ask to interview someone in the leadership of the organization.  Ask them about their views on the state of current LGBTQ politics; compare them to interviews with other leaders from various organizations.  Ask these leaders about the importance of “memory” for the LGBTQ movement and its causes.  Ask these leaders about their view of Harvey Milk as a generative force in contemporary LGBTQ politics.

C. Contact a LGBTQ-centered organization (i.e., PFLAG, Lambda) and ask to interview someone in the leadership of the organization.  Ask them about their views on coalition-building as a historical and contemporary strategy for building efforts toward social change.  What groups have they coaligned with; why and to what levels of success?

D. Access a LGBTQ-centered website (i.e., www.towleroad.com) that links thousands of LGBTQ folks in theUnited States into an online community and provides forums for the discussion of community, electoral politics, social change, legal issues, partner/domestic issues, etc.  Access a forum and read postings, concentrating on the arguments being made and the rhetorical strategies being used.

E. Access popular press narratives (i.e., Love, Castro Street) and concentrate an analysis on the arguments being made and the rhetorical strategies being used.  How do peoples’ experiences matter in their overall points about self, community, progress, and politics?

F. Watch a LGBTQ film (i.e., Milk) or documentary (i.e., The Times of Harvey Milk) and discuss how LGBTQ histories, peoples, and issues are represented.  What are the arguments made or themes attended to in the film or documentary?  Which leaders are spotlighted and to what issues do they respond?  How are political issues discussed?  Are oppositional voices represented?  What do they say, and how do they articulate their positions and arguments?  What is the “moral” of these films and documentaries.  In other words, what are viewers expected to take away?

G. Access visual, performative, or musical discourses of LGBTQ peoples and concentrate an analysis on the arguments being made and the rhetorical strategies being used.  How do peoples’ experiences matter in their overall points about self, community, progress, and politics?

H. Locate the websites of politicians who take pro-LGBTQ stances.  What issues related to LGBTQ culture and life do they discuss?  What types of legislation have they proposed and/or supported regarding LGBTQ peoples?

I. Explore media discourses surrounding the following issues: Proposition 8, partner rights, youth bullying, pop-cult representations of LGBTQ peoples, LGBTQ politics, etc.  How are these issues framed?  To what benefit?  To what detriment?

J. Explore televisual discourses surrounding the following issues: Proposition 8, partner rights, youth bullying, pop-cult representations of LGBTQ peoples, LGBTQ politics, etc.  How are these issues framed?  To what benefit?  To what detriment?

K. Explore comedic discourses (i.e., The Daily Show; Tosh.0) surrounding the following issues: Proposition 8, partner rights, youth bullying, pop-cult representations of LGBTQ peoples, LGBTQ politics, etc.  How are these issues framed?  To what benefit?  To what detriment?