Gay History – November 27, 1978: Harvey Milk Assassinated On This Day In San Francisco

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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2 Responses

  1. Mike in Asheville says:

    Beautiful post. (33 years, not 32.)

    I was a freshman at Berkeley that roller-coaster fateful fall in 1978.

    Roller-coaster because just 3 weeks before the assassination of Harvey and Mayor Moscone, it was a pretty heady time for the gay/lesbian community — thanks to Harvey Milk.

    On November 7, 1978, Californians voted down the Briggs Initiative by a million votes. Through the summer and early fall, the Briggs Initiative had 60+% support — had the initiative passed, all gay and lesbian public school teachers, counselors and administrators would have been fired from their jobs and none hired. The vile John Briggs wanted to bring Anita Bryant style homophobia and bigotry to California.

    During the summer and early fall, it was very dark and gloomy. It seemed certain that the Briggs Initiative would pass, further harming and stigmatizing our community.

    Harvey then took control of the campaign. In those late days of the campaign, and facing daunting odds, Harvey figured a way out: get big league politicians from both parties to denounce the initiative for its blatant discrimination.

    (I met Harvey that September, he was working a No on Briggs station in the Castro, handed me a brochure, and reminded me to make sure I voted and got others to vote. I was a little thrilled as I so happily watched him the year earlier give his victory speech on TV — I was a high school senior in the East Bay. He was a true hero to me — I knew my life was going to be a little easier because he was there demanding equality for me too.)

    After working so hard behind the scenes, Harvey’s efforts paid off. By the end of September 1978, former Governor (and presidential candidate) Ronald Reagan, Governor Jerry Brown (in his 2nd term), President Carter and former President Ford, all came out publicly denouncing the Briggs Initiative for its discrimination. Reagan actually spoke against the initiative at his own campaign stops.

    That election night, was full of victory and happiness. The roller-coaster had shifted the mood of the gay/lesbian community as sharply and swiftly as a roller-coaster does. The happiness and relief was everywhere in the city and area.

    And then that awful and fateful day just 20 days later. I was eating my lunch in Sproul Plaza when I overheard the news — I just sat there and cried.

    But Harvey’s legacy did not die with him, indeed his bravery and courage instilled a groundswell of new and stronger support. Harvey’s heroism provided the guidance needed to lift us up from the sadness and move us forward.

    God bless you Harvey, I think of you often.

  2. When I watched the movie Milk my life was forever changed. It was the right movie at the right time about something that never should have happened. And here we are, all these years later, and still we are struggling as LGBTQ people for basic human rights and dignity. Thank you Harvey for standing up. Your courage gives me strength to be my authentic self.

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