The first openly gay man in public office brought hope to so many people
Today, May 22, is Harvey Milk day. A day we celebrate the memory of a pioneer of social and political change for the LGBT community. Celebrate a wonderful man, advocate, and inspiration by reading some of the best Harvey Milk quotes.
Next month is also LGBT Pride Month, in honor of the Stonewall riots that occurred at the end of June 1969. Consequently, many pride events are conducted throughout the month to highlight the impact LGBT people have had in the world.
Without question, one such person was Harvey Milk, regarded by many as probably the most famous LGBT public figure and the first openly gay person to hold public office, when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
Tragically, he was killed the following year.
Harvey Bernard Milk was born May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, New York to a small middle-class Jewish family. After graduating from the New York State College for Teachers in 1951, Milk joined the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and served as a diving instructor at a base in San Diego, CA. After being discharged in 1955 Milk worked a variety of jobs, including public school teacher, production associate for several Broadway musicals, stock analyst and Wall Street investment banker.
In late 1972, Milk moved to San Francisco, CA where he opened a camera shop called Castro Camera on Castro Street. During this time there was a large migration of gay men to the Castro District and by the end of the 1970s, San Francisco had more gay people per capita than any other American city.
Although Milk had known since high school that he was gay, Milk mostly kept his sexual orientation a secret. But as Castro Camera increasingly became a neighborhood center, Milk began to find his voice as a leader and activist.
Angered by the Watergate scandal, in 1973 Harvey Milk decided to enter the political arena, hoping to bring about positive change. “I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up,” Milk said when running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
After his third campaign, in 1977, Milk was finally elected. His time in office only lasted for eleven months, but as a Supervisor, he was responsible for passing a number of gay rights-related city ordinances.
His political career was cut short when he and the Mayor of the City were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White, a politician known for his anti-gay views.
In the wake of his death, Harvey Milk became a San Francisco icon and martyr for the gay community. Here is a list of some of Harvey Milk’s biggest political and social achievements both before and during his time in office:
“Mayor of Castro Street”
“It takes no compromise to give people their rights … it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give them freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” —Harvey Milk
Affectionately known as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” Harvey Milk was an active member of the Castro Street community. Milk rallied gay bars on Castro Street to participate in a strike against beer distributors who refused to sign a union contract.
In return, Milk asked union organizers to hire more gay drivers.
Castro Village Association
“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.” —Harvey Milk
Milk, along with other business owners, decided to launch the Castro Village Association as a direct response to the Eureka Valley Merchants Association’s attempt to prevent two gay businessmen from opening an antique shop.
RELATED: How The Rainbow Became The Symbol Of LGBT Pride
Castro Street Fair
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” —Harvey Milk
With the aim of spreading a philosophy that gay men should support gay businesses, Milk organized the Castro Street Fair in 1974 to attract more customers. During that first year, 5,000 attendees came to the street festival and in 1977, 70,000 people came.
Voter Registration Drive & Newspaper Columnist
“If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities … the expression of love … then life itself loses its meaning.” —Harvey Milk
Milk conducted a voter registration drive that registered 2,000 new voters, and he began writing a newspaper column for the Bay Area Reporter.
Gay Rights Ordinance
“Hope will never be silent.” —Harvey Milk
Milk sought to not only change the stereotypes that existed about gays, but to also promote a legal framework that supported gay rights. He successfully pushed to get a law passed that would prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. He also got the city to hire more gay/lesbian police officers.
RELATED: What’s Pride Got To Do With It?
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” —Harvey Milk
In November 1978, after Milk took office, he was confronted with a piece of anti-gay legislation known as the Briggs Initiative, or Proposition 6, which would bar gay/lesbian teachers from teaching in California public schools and would fire anyone who supported gay rights. Milk campaigned against it and delivered his famous “Hope Speech” at the Gay Freedom Day Parade.
250,000-375,000 people came from all over the country and his speech caught national attention. The proposition lost by more than a million votes.
“The fact that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!” —Harvey Milk
In addition to gay rights, Harvey Milk also wanted to tackle a wide variety of issues: from developing a civilian police review board, starting programs that benefited workers and the rights of the elderly, implementing free public transportation, larger and less expensive child care facilities and the “pooper scooper law” which required pet owners to clean up after their dogs.
Milk even “accidentally” stepped in dog poop in front of cameras, to publicize his campaign, as he was walking with the press through Duboce Park.
“All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.” —Harvey Milk
In 2008, Milk, a Hollywood film of Harvey Milk’s life, was released, bringing Milk’s voice and influence to the modern day gay movement in the United States. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.
Harvey Milk’s ongoing promotion of tolerance and equality earned him a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, led Time magazine to name him as one of the most influential people of the 20th century, and led the state of California to name a holiday after him on his birthday, May 22.
In 2014, he was honored by the United States Postal Service with a Forever Stamp.