Every May 22nd, we celebrate Harvey Milk Day to honor Harvey Milk who became the first openly gay man to be elected to a California Public Office and was a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ Rights. Harvey Milk ran for San Francisco City Supervisor three times before he was elected. His campaign was built on connecting the people to the government, the LGBTQ+ community with other communities around San Francisco to work together to enact positive change in the legislature. According to his biography Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts; Harvey and his lover, Scott Smith, helped lead one of the first successful gay boycotts of alcohol when he advocated for gay bars to stop serving Coors Beer to help bolster a fledgling boycott from a delivery drivers’ union. This boycott was a success in that the union won their strike and was a significant achievement against the anti-labor movement which was seeking to stripe workers’ rights. Thanks to Harvey and Scott’s efforts, the LGBTQ+ had an ally among many labor unions that would go on to help Harvey get elected and garner ally support for LGBTQ+ causes, even after Milk’s assassination.
Harvey was passionate and most importantly, he was persistent. The defeats he faced in his first two campaigns for supervisor were tough for him, but Harvey never gave up. He had the energy, drive and passion to keep fighting for what was important. Even in the face of significant homophobia, including threats, intimidation, assaults, and prosecution. Harvey knew he had to keep moving forward, and he did. The night after his assassination, 40,000 people turned out for an impromptu candlelight march through San Francisco to City Hall in honor of Harvey and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.
In the weeks following, the assassin was acquitted, which lead to significant protesting and riots throughout San Francisco and reflected the anti-LGBTQ culture so prevalent in the government at the time, the kind of culture that Harvey Milk sought to change. The verdict however, led to changes in California law to reduce the capacity for acquittals in such cases. Harvey’s legacy is that it was no longer impossible for LGBTQ+ people to enter politics, and that a person with the energy, enthusiasm and integrity can enact positive change for their community. Harvey Milk has inspired many future politicians who have followed in his footsteps to continue leading the charge for more LGBTQ+ representation in political office.
Harvey Milk Day began in 2009 after activist Daren I. Ball was inspired by the movie Milk and successfully petitioned for the day to be recognized as an official holiday for the state of California and is celebrated as a day of significance in all California schools.
Visit http://milkfoundation.org/ for more information on the Harvey Milk Foundation and how you can contribute,