Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Harvey Milk

Along with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk is one of the most iconic and influential American LGBT leaders. Politically active from 1973-1978, Milk was one of the first openly gay political leaders, and pushed for both political and community reforms in San Francisco and California.

Image result for harvey milk
Harvey Milk
Milk was born May 22, 1930 to Minerva and William Milk in Woodmere, New York. Though he knew he was gay from a young age, he stayed quiet about it until adulthood. He was a popular, well liked athlete in high school, and participated in school operas.

Harvey attended New York State College for Teachers, graduating in 1951, and moving on to attend Officer Candidate School after enlisting in the US Navy. He was subsequently stationed in San Diego, serving as a diving instructor on the U.S.S. Kittiwake. He achieved the rank of junior lieutenant before his discharge in 1955.

There is some debate about the nature of Milk's discharge. Milk stated that he was dishonorably discharged after being questioned about his sexuality, but the U.S. Navy records reflect that Milk was honorably discharged. It is difficult to ascertain which party is telling the truth, as both parties have a reasonable reason to lie--Milk to give depth to his political agenda, the Navy to avoid the embarrassment of having mistreated a man who would later become an international hero. It is worth noting, however, that Milk's discharge was during the height of the Lavender Scare, which gives credence to his story.

After leaving the military Milk worked as a high school teacher for a few years before going to work as a financial analyst. Milk enjoyed a stable career in finance until 1970 when he left to become a production assistant for Broadway musicals. Milk's credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair.


Milk in front of Castro Camera, 1973
In 1972 Harvey moved to San Francisco with his lover, and opened a camera shop in the Castro district, and area of San Francisco known for it's LGBT population and liberal politics.

Milk soon became a staple of Castro political life. His store--Castro Camera--was a gathering place for LGBT people. In 1973, shortly after moving to the Castro Milk declared his candidacy for City Supervisor, spurred on by a heavy tax on small businesses and the Watergate Scandal. Though he lost the campaign he gained recognition as a popular politician, and began to gather more political support.

Supporting small businesses as well as LGBT rights would become a focus of Milk's for the next few years. In 1974 he founded the Castro Street Fair--an event devoted to bringing commercial activity to the Castro. He worked with local businesses to revitalize the Castro Village Association, and convinced local bars to stop selling certain brands of beer during a Teamster's Strike, in exchange for the teamsters hiring more gay and lesbian drivers.

Milk ran again and lost in 1975. By this time he was the leader of the Castro gay community, fondly known as 'The Mayor of Castro Street'. His civic activities brought him to the notice of mayor George Moscone, who appointed him to the city permit's appeals board. Harvey served in this position for a few weeks before leaving to run for California State Assembly, a race he would end up losing.

Image result for castro neighborhood map
The Castro lies in the heart of San Francisco
Realizing that he needed to rely on his voter base in the Castro, Milk worked with Anne Kronenberg, and George Moscone to revise the city laws so that supervisors would be elected by the people in their specific district, rather than the city as a whole. The passing of this amendment meant that when Harvey ran for city supervisor again in 1977, he won easily.

Harvey's election was met with joy from liberals, and angry grumbles from conservatives. Once in office, Milk proved a dedication to serving all the minority groups of San Francisco, not just the LGBT community. He established free daycare services for working mothers, and had abandoned military facilities converted into low cost housing. He reformed the tax code to benefit small businesses, and worked on measures protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.

Though he was universally loved in the Castro, and generally admired across the United States, Milk received death threats almost daily. Unfortunately on November 27, 1978, Dan White--a former colleague of Harvey's--carried through on that threat, assassinating both Milk and Mayor Mascone.

Today, Milk is remembered as a legendary activist, and a great politician. Though he was only in office for a short time, he was able to pass a great deal of reforms which still benefit the people of California today.

On a wider scale, Milk is an inspiration for LGBT people around the world. His belief that homosexuals needed to come out of the closet to fight for greater rights and understanding has inspired LGBT people around the world to speak out, and follow in his example.

Sources
Harvey Milk-Activist (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk, American Politician and Activist
Harvey Milk Biography
The Official Harvey Milk Biography

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for commenting! We have turned on comment moderation in order to cut down on the amount of spam and promotional material being sent to us. Provided your comment is not attempting to sell something, your comment will be published within the next 48 hours.