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Harvey Milk

Updated: Jan 15

Who is Harvey Milk?

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California (Image Source: AP Photo)
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California (Image Source: AP Photo)

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. In 1977, he won his seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and became a strong advocate for civil and human rights. His election gave hope to the LGBTQ community as this was the first representation they have ever seen in politics. Unfortunately, Harvey Milk was assassinated quite early into his career prematurely ending his life and sparking his legacy.


Early Life

 Who is Harvey Milk? Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. In 1977, he won his seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and became a strong advocate for civil and human rights. His election gave hope to the LGBTQ community as this was the first representation they have ever seen in politics. Unfortunately, Harvey Milk was assassinated quite early into his career prematurely ending his life and sparking his legacy.  Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California (Image Source: AP Photo)  Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 (Image Source: Daniel Nicoletta)
Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 (Image Source: Daniel Nicoletta)

Milk was born in Woodmere, New York in 1930 into a Lithuanian family. His family practiced the Jewish religion and his father was a member of the U.S. Navy. Harvey Milk went on to study at the New York State College for Teachers where he first started bringing up the debate of diversity. After his graduation in 1951, he enlisted in the Navy following in his father's footsteps.


Exploring Identity

After leaving the Navy around the 1960’s, Milk spent some time in Rhode Island as a driving instructor until his sexual orientation was questioned, and he left. Harvey decided then to move back to New York, where he took on many different roles. He was a teacher, stock analyst, and even worked on Broadway as a production associate. Over the course of the next decade, Harvey Milk began to involve himself more in politics and with the Vietnam War splitting the nation, he advocated against it. In 1972 Milk moved to San Francisco where he was truly able to start embracing his identity. Surrounded by an emerging LGBTQ community, he was able to explore and become more confident in himself. Milk, along with a few others founded the Castro Village Agency which was the first organization of primarily LGBTQ businesses in the nation. This provided support for existing LGBTQ companies and paved the way for the development of new LGBTQ organizations.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Harvey Milk fought vehemently for gay rights in California (Image Source: San Jose University Collection/Ted Sahl)
Harvey Milk fought vehemently for gay rights in California (Image Source: San Jose University Collection/Ted Sahl)

In both 1972 and 1974, Harvey Milk ran for the supervisor position in San Francisco and unfortunately lost both times. This however didn’t stop him as his continuous involvement established his name as one not to be reckoned with in the political world. Following another loss when running for State Assembly, Milk realized that if he rallied up all the voters involved in the Castro’s Village Agency, he would have a much greater chance at succeeding in running as a candidate. This campaigning worked, and on January 9, 1978, Harvey Milk was inaugurated as the San-Francisco City Council Supervisor. The news of his election as the first openly gay elected official quickly spread throughout the nation. Harvey Milk not only worked to serve the LGBTQ community, but many others as well. Some of the main points on his political agenda were to protect LGBTQ and other minority rights, provide low-cost housing, reform tax codes to assist the industry, and provide working mothers with daycares. He advocated for many measures to make the city of San Francisco an overall safer place.


Death and Legacy

Milk's dedication to ending LGBT discrimination paved the way for future LGBT legislation (Image Source: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Milk's dedication to ending LGBT discrimination paved the way for future LGBT legislation (Image Source: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk's life was tragically taken by Dan White, who was able to sneak into the city hall and assassinate him. His death however was not the end of his legacy and did not stop his message from being shared. On the day of his death, many Americans across the country found the courage to come out to honor his life and his belief that no one should live in fear in the closet. His position opened the door for many more LGBTQ politicians to step up and get involved. His death shed a light on the true horrors of the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTQ community and inspired others to fight for gay rights in his name and to carry on his legacy.

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