Harvey Milk Day: Lessons Learned

Harvey Milk left New York City in pursuit of a progressive urban community that was ready to make LGBTQ rights a national priority. In the San Francisco Bay Area, he found that community.

Over the next years, Milk sought public office unsuccessfully three different times. Ultimately though, an increasingly tolerant constituency enabled him to be the first LGBTQ person ever elected to any California public office, alongside the city’s first single-mother, African American woman, and Chinese American supervisors.

From Victory to Tragedy

The first thing Milk did in office was introduce the nation’s most stringent bill banning discrimination. The “the Mayor of Castro Street,” as he was called, continued to carry the message for not just the LGBT community but all minority communities stating, “It's not my victory, it's yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We've given them hope.”

Tragically, on November 10, 1978, former Supervisor Dan White, angry with the mayor for refusing to overturn his resignation, opened fire in City Hall, killing both Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone.

Dianne Feinstein, then President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was first on the scene and experienced the horror that is a public spree shooting. Still shaking, she announced that both the Mayor and Milk had been shot and killed by a former Supervisor.

A Message that Endures Today

Although by all accounts former Supervisor White’s motives for shooting Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were not based on animus toward gay people, Harvey Milk has been immortalized as a martyr for the LGBTQ rights community and movement as a whole.

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” - Harvey Milk

Though only in office for eleven months, his dogged perseverance for equal rights and freedoms for all people gave his voice a national audience and renewed inspiration within the embryonic LGBTQ movement.

Like many great civil rights leaders, Milk’s life was taken in an act of gun violence. But his words and courage continue to embolden the shared struggles of communities from all races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, ages, physical disabilities, and immigration statuses.

“Hope Will Never Be Silent”

Commemorative days are a chance to reflect on what there is to be gained out of these senseless crimes.

From Harvey Milk’s life I’ve learned that it takes courage to walk out the right path alone, but if you do so you will find many more by your side rather soon. If we abandon our core beliefs we will never know who may have joined us or the success we may have had.

From his death I add yet another story to the collage of gun violence victims stemming from inconceivable legislative neglect of gun safety laws and screenings to ensure the mentally ill and criminals cannot purchase firearms.

But as long as we hope for safety in every community we can make changes because, as Milk said, “Hope will never be silent."

Got any favorite Harvey Milk quotes or stories? Please share in the comments below!