Late Calif. politician inspires hope for Temple professor

The story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected into public office, will be shown at the Reel. The film ‘Milk’ motivated Dr. Scott Gratson who is an archivist for one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ youth agencies.

As if being a highly involved professor is not enough, Temple’s Dr. Scott Gratson is also involved in a project that overlaps with the inspirational story of Harvey Milk and recent attempts to preserve the history and struggle for gay rights.

The Academy Award-winning film Milk recently brought the story of Milk’s fight for gay rights – a fight that cost him his life – to public attention. The film follows Milk on his journey from being a closeted homosexual to the first openly gay man elected to public office. In the process of his journey, Milk led a tremendous gay rights movement. Less than a year after Milk was elected into public office, a fellow politician assassinated him.

Gratson’s relation to Milk’s inspirational story began with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which houses the Harvey Milk High School. The school is a New York City public school that aims to provide a learning environment open to all students and safe for LGBTQ youth.

In addition to being director of the Communications Department, Gratson is the archivist for the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

“Hetrick-Martin Institute is one of, if not the largest, LGBTQ youth agencies in the United States,” Gratson said. “This year, HMI will mark its 30th anniversary. My position is to help compile historical data, events, narratives and other artifacts that illustrate the complexity, role and changes of HMI.”

As an active member of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, Gratson attended the film Milk and a talk with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, Milk’s friend Cleve Jones and actors James Franco and Emile Hirsch.

“It was a wonderfully engaging and moving event, much like the film itself,” Gratson said.

Gratson recommends the film wholeheartedly to anyone who “is interested in human progress, inclusion, history, individual tragedy and triumph and most certainly anyone who believes in hope.”

Franco and Hirsch starred in the film along with Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for best performance by an actor in a leading role. Since working on the film, Penn has joined the push to have Milk’s birthday officially recognized in California.

Last fall, the bill to recognize Milk’s birthday passed in both the California Assembly and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. According the Associated Press, Schwarzenegger said Milk should be honored in San Francisco, where he held political office but not statewide.

Gratson said the Briggs Initiative, which Milk helped to defeat, influenced the entire state and was not limited to the city of San Francisco.

“Milk is part of that legacy, a legacy that is not only isolated to one city,” Gratson said.

Thanks to Milk and the public support that the film has received, Milk’s legacy is being shared with cities and countries beyond San Francisco’s political boundaries.

The film will run at the Reel starting March 16, allowing for Milk’s legacy to be shared with the Temple community.

Christine Fisher can be reached at

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