Saturday, May 22, marks the much honorable Harvey Milk Day. This day is organized by the Harvey Milk Foundation with the aim of celebrating the memory of Harvey Milk, a well-known gay rights activist who was brutally assassinated in 1978. The day marks Milk’s birthday, and it is celebrated as a way to honor and remember all of his efforts for the LGBTQ+ community.
So, who in fact was Harvey Milk?
Harvey Bernard Milk was a civil and human rights leader during the 1960s and 70s. In 1977, Milk became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk’s pride in his identity and win in the election gave the LGBTQ+ community newfound hope at a time when the community was experiencing extremely high levels of hostility and discrimination. Milk’s impact was huge.
Coming out and being openly gay could not have been easy for Harvey Milk. His parents both had served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. Born and raised in New York, Harvey and his brother Robert worked in the family’s department store (Milks) as young adults. When Milk graduated from college in 1951, he enlisted in the Navy as well. However, he resigned in 1955 after being questioned about his sexuality.
After leaving the U.S. Navy, Milk branched out in New York and began working as a public school teacher, stock analyst, and even as a production associate for Broadway musicals. As the years went by, Milk became more and more involved with politics and advocacy. When he moved to San Francisco in 1972, he opened a camera store in the center of the city’s gay community (Castro district). This gained a lot of attention, and Milk quickly became a popular figure in the city. One year later, he declared his candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost this race, and again in 1975, but did not give up until his famous victory in 1977.
When he won the election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk made history as the first openly gay elected official in California, and one of the first in the United States. His camera store and campaign headquarters at 575 Castro Street (and his apartment above it) were centers of community activism for a wide range of human rights, environmental, labor, and neighborhood issues.
During his tenure as supervisor, he helped pass a gay rights ordinance for the city of San Francisco that prohibited anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment.
On November 27, 1978, a mere 11 months after taking office, Harvey Milk was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. His murderer, Dan White was angry that Mayor George Moscone had refused to reappoint him to his seat on the Board of Supervisors, from which he had just resigned. White also resented that Milk had lobbied heavily against his reappointment.
Despite his tragic assassination, Milk continues to be celebrated as an advocate for human rights and "a martyr for gay rights" worldwide.
We hope that this blog gave you some insight into Harvey Milk’s life. The more educated we are on LGBTQ+ history and its advocates, the better prepared we are to fight for equality.
Although Harvey Milk’s remarkable career was cut short, his impact will never be forgotten. On this day, we honor and remember Milk’s efforts.