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  • Writer's pictureKim Gibson, MS, ATR, LPCC

Book Review-“Pride - The Story of Harvey Milk & the Rainbow Flag” & its use in an art therapy group

“Pride- The Story of Harvey Milk & the Rainbow Flag”  is a children’s book for ages 5-8. It is an age-appropriate, awesome book for kids about the LGBTQ rights movement.  It tells the story of famed social activist Harvey Milk (1930-1978), who was one of the first openly gay politicians in the US and was instrumental in helping promote gay rights. In 1978, Harvey Milk collaborated with Gilbert Baker, who designed what has become one of the most iconic symbols for the LGBTQ community: the rainbow pride flag. 

For last Wednesday’s art therapy group, I choose to use this book to celebrate Pride month and as a jumping off point to discuss differences, discrimination and equality.  I opened our session with an acknowledgement of June being LGBTQ Pride Month & explained the month of June was chosen in order to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June of 1969.  I introduced group members to the book and provided them a summary of Harvey Milk’s life while showing a few pictures from the book including the opening page which features a quote by Harvey, “You have to give them hope.  Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow…” The book goes on to explain that Milk “dreamed that everyone- even gay people- would have equality.” Harvey, with the help of his friends, planned marches in San Francisco to protest inequality, which led to his idea that they needed a symbol.  Milk collaborated with Gilbert Baker, a man in his twenties, who knew how to design and sew. The flag was flown for the first time on June 25th, 1978 in San Francisco & became a symbol of hope and pride. In November of 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone, then mayor of San Francisco, was gunned down and killed on the steps of city hall.  Despite Harvey’s death, his actions toward equality and the symbol he helped create, live on. The second to last page of the book, shows the White House awash in the colors of the Rainbow Flag. This occurred on June 26th, 2015 as a way to mark the historic Supreme Court ruling that couples who are gay have the right to get married.  

After looking at the book & prior to making artwork, we moved on to a discussion of the book's themes found in Harvey Milk's life.  Several clients shared their memories of the late seventies and what they knew about Harvey Milk’s life. Some of the themes that group members pointed out were his desire for equal rights for all, his willingness to be a leader & his desire to make changes in his community.  I pointed out his persistence and shared that he ran for office four times before he was finally elected. We also explored what it is like to be different and to face discrimination. Although not all could relate to Harvey’s particular struggle; group members could find common ground in having been discriminated against at some point- maybe for their gender, religion or the stigma of having some type of  health issue- mental or physical. This led to our art therapy directive. Group members were asked to turn inward, reflect and create artwork about a time when they experienced discrimination or felt as though they were not being treated equal to others. Afterwards, group members who wanted to show their artwork were given the opportunity to share. Sharing is always encouraged in my groups, but not forced.  When clients feels safe enough to share they benefit from being seen & heard. Often they learn they are not alone.

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