Thank God for Harvey Milk


Today I give thanks for the life work of Harvey Milk on the anniversary of his death. He was shot and killed 25 years ago this day by San Francisco city supervisor Dan White, who also shot and killed Mayor George Moscone.

Harvey Milk was known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, a pioneer and leader in every sense of the word, speaking out for the rights of gay people when it was a far more dangerous and rebellious act than it is today. It was a position that eventually cost him his life.

When Milk moved to the Castro and opened a small camera shop it was not the organized gay ghetto that it is today. He started the Castro Street Fair on August 18, 1974 in order to unite the local gay community in defiance of discrimination by the Eureka Valley Merchants Association. It has since become an annual institution.

As a sarcastic reaction to the notion that homosexuals recruited people to join their community, he started out his stump speeches with the line, “My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”

In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay official elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He would serve eleven courageous months before being brutally murdered at City Hall in a homophobic attack by supervisor Dan White, who had eluded metal detectors by climbing in through a basement window. White also murdered mayor George Moscone.

In a stunning sentence, White was convicted of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years and eight months. The main defense that White’s lawyer gave was that he had eaten too much junk food the day of the murders which had somehow influenced his actions. It was labeled by critics as “the twinkie defense.” White was paroled after six years and committed suicide soon after.

Milk had been paranoid about a threat of assassination because of his outspoken role in the community and his views on gay rights. On one of many audio tapes that was discovered after his death, on which he had recorded a will, he said:

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

In my opinion, Harvey Milk has not yet been given his due in history. There are so few younger gay people that know about the extraordinary power and courage this man gave a community and a movement. I recommend that everyone view the incredibly compelling documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. You can rent it at video stores, but it’s hard to find a copy for purchase. It’s a MUST see. Randy Shilts also wrote a book on the topic.

The Times of Harvey Milk is a film that will stick with you forever. The image of Dianne Feinstein standing before a phalanx of reporters and uttering the news of the murders is gut-wrenching.

Were it not for Harvey Milk I am fully convinced the gay rights movement might still be in the dark ages. We certainly wouldn’t be on the verge of being able to marry. Long live his memory!

***Uncle Donald’s Castro Street is another fascinating read. It’s an incredibly engrossing website full of images of gay life in the Castro and memories from the 70’s. I was on the site for hours.


  1. Lee says

    There was also an opera HARVEY MILK by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie that was co-commissioned by the Houston Grand, San Francisco, and New York City Opera companies and had it’s world premiere in 1995 with my former client baritone Robert Orth who played Harvey. Musically not a great piece but should be noted for the strong support it received in producing it.

  2. says

    You’re right, the younger gay people don’t know about how important Harvey Milk is to the gay rights movement. I know, because in two years of being out, and having lived in the “gay ghetto” I learned more from this entry then I have in the 27 years of my life, and I was born and raised in the SF Bay Area.

  3. says

    I was checking out what’s new on the web about Harvey Milk and found your site. I agree that without Harvey’s leadership, we wouldn’t have come so far so quickly. And I worry that so few young people are aware of that fact and they don’t realize that we have a long way to go before the struggle is over.

    Thank you very much for the glowing review you gave my site Uncle Donald’s Castro Street.

  4. Sara says

    I just did a research paper in history for Harvey Milk, and I think he was an awesome leader and he accomplished so much for the gay an lesbian community. You did a great job in telling his life.

  5. Thom says

    We invited our 38 year old gay neighbor for Thanksgiving. During dinner, the subject of the film, Milk, came up. I was totally amazed that our neighbor knew nothing about Harvey, his triumphs and martyrdom.

    God bless Gus Van Sant.

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