Former Fresno State professor and Fresno councilmember honor historical LGBTQ+ figure Harvey Milk


Aileen Guzman/The Collegian

The Fresno Stonewall Democrats hosted ‘An Evening with Lillian Faderman’ on March 23 to discuss Faderman’s book ‘Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death.’

By Aileen Guzman, Contributor

Harvey Milk took a stand for LGBTQ+ rights within his community. He was the first openly gay man to run for public office, and when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he faced much scrutiny for his sexuality.

He became a prominent political figure for the Bay until he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White on Nov. 27, 1978, at city hall.

For Lillian Faderman, Milk is still a constant symbol for not only the LGBTQ+ community but society in general. That’s why her most recent book focuses on Milk’s achievements that don’t get enough attention, she said.

On Thursday, March 23, The Fresno Stonewall Democrats held an event from 6-8 p.m. to discuss Faderman’s book about Milk, also reminiscing about Milk’s historical importance and the doors he opened for the LGBTQ+ community.

The event was hosted by Marsha Conant, Terry Stasio and Artemis Gidram. They all gave a warm welcome to Faderman and praised her for her book, “Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death.”

“I think that his martyrdom was not only significant to our community, but it was also the first time in history I think that large masses of Americans understood that an openly gay person could serve in a political position and be effective and be a true leader because he was suddenly [in] headlines all over the country and that had not been the case before,” Faderman said.

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, but had not served his full term before his assassination. At age 48, Milk was given the status for most famous gay man in modern history.

Lillian Faderman attends event that showcases her book about Harvey Milk. (Aileen Guzman/The Collegian)

To start the event, Fresno State alumnus Peter Robertson gave an emotional speech and introduction for Faderman. He commended her for her hard work and dedication toward the LGBTQ+ community and its history.

Robertson also praised Faderman’s wife as well.

“Behind every great woman is another great woman. We love you, too. ” Robertson said, referring to Phyllis Irwin. “So today…if you google ‘Lillian Faderman’ [it] comes up more than a thousand times. But one of the overriding themes is [that] she is the Mother of Lesbian History.”

After Robertson’s speech, he opened the floor for Faderman by walking over to her seat and embracing Faderman and Irwin.

Fresno City Councilmember Annalisa Perea celebrated in the event as well, conversing with Faderman during her talk.

Perea is Fresno’s first openly gay council member, who was elected in 2018. She is the representative for Tower District, Downtown Fresno, southeast Fresno and west of Highway 99.

“I will tell you that I’m here today because of people like Dr. Faderman and so many others in this world who paved the way for me. Most people who know me know that I’m shy. I’m an introvert, but it wasn’t until 2018 when (I will not say his name) ran for president, and I thought that our values are under attack, and there’s no reason why somebody like me should not be stepping up and running for office,” Perea said.

Yale University Press approached Faderman to look into Milk’s life, considering she had briefly spoken about him in her previous book, “The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle.”

“He was said by many publications to be our Martin Luther King, and there were even publications that said that this was prophetic. MLK and M.I.L.K, so it was just such emotion connected with his martyrdom. People saw a prophecy, but I think that he’s important not just because he’s our martyr but because he did so many revolutionary things,” said Faderman.

Throughout the evening, Faderman and Perea held a strong, connected discussion about the upbringing of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I’m happy to carry the torch and take leadership on some issues, but I couldn’t get anything done without my allies on the council. And so allyship is extremely important for us,” Perea said.

As the evening came to an end, Conant and Stasio presented Perea with a gift of a heart-shaped, lavender flower crown to show their appreciation for her activism and standing.

Faderman ended the night with a book signing and took photos with some of the attendees, many congratulating and complimenting her for her work and dedication to the community.

“So the work continues, Dr. Faderman, but I’m just so thankful for you being here and sharing your story of the book you wrote,” Perea said.