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Gay History – May 22nd: Harvey Milk Day “You have to give people hope.”

Harvey Milk became an icon and a martyr for the gay community

“Without knowing, understanding and embracing our past. We can not move forward in the future….”

 

Harvey Bernard Milk  (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) was an American politician who became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and served 11 months in office.

The “Hope Speech” became Harvey Milk’s stump speech. He gave a skeletal version when he declared his candidacy in 1977 and an expanded version in 1978 for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, later known as the Gay Pride Parade. For that parade, Milk commissioned his friend Gilbert Baker to come up with a logo; Baker created the gay pride Rainbow Flag, which first waved at that parade. Chicago native and science fiction writer Frank Robinson, also Milk’s speechwriter and a close adviser, helped pen the “Hope Speech.”

In the speech, Milk references adversaries Anita Bryant and California legislator John Briggs, who campaigned nationally against gay rights. Addressing gay youths across the United States afraid to come out, Milk cites his own election as a gay politician in San Francisco as a testament of hope. For those youths contemplating suicide or staying in the closet, there were two new options, Milk said: “Go to California, or stay … and fight.”

On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.  White was unstable and highly homophobic. Milk’s election was made possible by and was a key component of a shift in San Francisco politics. The assassinations and the ensuing events were the result of continuing ideological conflicts in the city.

In August 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay rights movement stating “he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction”. Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk accepted for his uncle.  Not long after that, Stuart co-founded the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Harvey Milk became an icon and a martyr for the gay community and is”the most famous and most significantly open gay official ever elected in the United States”.  Anne Kronenberg , his final campaign manager, wrote of him: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us

In late 2009 then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger designated May 22 as “Harvey Milk Day”, and inducted Milk in the California Hall of Fame. The Harvey Milk Foundation began coordinating global recognition and celebration of Harvey Milk Day. Harry Britt summarized Milk’s impact the evening Milk was shot in 1978: “No matter what the world has taught us about ourselves, we can be beautiful and we can get our thing together … Harvey was a prophet … he lived by a vision … Something very special is going to happen in this city and it will have Harvey Milk’s name on it.”

 

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. 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 Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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