California’s First Harvey Milk Day Gives Us Hope
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay city official in California, elected by San Francisco citizens as a Supervisor (Councilman) for District 8. Milk ran on a platform of fairness, equality, and justice for all. In 1978, along with Mayor George Moscone, a liberal supporter of gay rights, he was assassinated by Supervisor Dan White. Harvey had received death threats and said:
Milk’s death shocked gay and non-gay San Franciscans alike. White’s subsequent trial resulted in a miscarriage of justice with an all-white, mostly Catholic jury that actively excluded gays and ethnic minorities. This jury rendered a verdict of manslaughter, rather than murder, despite clear evidence that White premeditated the cold-blooded murders, including bringing a loaded gun into City Hall. An enormous backlash arose in San Francisco’s gay community, with historic large and sometimes violent street protests. This astonishing lack of basic fairness in the justice system brought about lasting changes in San Francisco’s political system and in the state of California’s legal system. Shockwaves from both Harvey’s life, death, and failures in the justice system still reverberate through America.
This month, Harvey would have turned 80 years old. Both his life, brutal assassination, and subsequent legend have been portrayed by Randy Shilts’s biography in The Mayor of Castro Street and the movie based on the book, The Times of Harvey Milk, and in Gus Van Sant’s movie, Milk, filmed in San Francisco and written by Dustin Lance Black. California has created a state holiday to honor Harvey Milk, with the first celebration on 22 May 2010. In Harvey’s Castro neighborhood, and throughout California, there are numerous events planned to honor him, including the dedication of a plaque on the sidewalk outside his camera store.
Milk’s vision was for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders to come out into mainstream society and thereby socially progress both civil society and the cause of full liberation and human rights for GLBTs. His murder brought many people out of the closet of shame and denial and out in the open, just like he declared.
Milk fought and died for the rights of gay people to live openly, freely, and in celebration of who we are, and both the vibrant LGBT and larger society rightly are celebrating this courageous man’s legacy.
Happy Birthday, Harvey, and thank you for your bravery and vision. We have hope!