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LGBT People of History 81 - Harvey Milk

Updated on April 22, 2012
Harvey in his naval uniform, 1954.
Harvey in his naval uniform, 1954. | Source
Harvey in Moscone's Office.
Harvey in Moscone's Office. | Source
Some of Harvey's belongings in the GLBT Museum
Some of Harvey's belongings in the GLBT Museum | Source

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was perhaps the most famous openly gay man in politics due to his pioneering work for a truly open, equal and accepting society and his subsequent assassination. There have been many documentaries and movies made as well as books written about him.

Harvey Bernard Milk (1930 – 1978) was born to Lithuanian Jewish parents on Long Island, New York. When he was young he was teased for his sticking-out ears, big nose and feet. He hid behind the façade of playing the clown. When he was a teenager he accepted his homosexuality but kept it a secret. He attended college in Albany studying mathematics and became well-known for being friendly and outgoing.

During the Korean War he served in the US Navy and upon discharge he became a teacher. Harvey was a passionate and romantic soul and he met Joe Campbell in 1956. They spent 6 years together in New York City and in Texas. In 1962, back in New York and now an actuary at an insurance firm, he met Craig Rodwell, who was a gay activist. This did not sit well with Harvey and the relationship ended when Craig was arrested. A complex relationship with Jack Galen McKinley followed.

They moved to San Francisco where a sizeable gay community was building up due to men having been fired from the navy for being gay. Hippies and gay men were attracted San Francisco and to the Castro area in large numbers. When McKinley and Harvey broke up, Harvey moved around the US aimlessly until he met Scott Smith and they moved back to San Francisco opening a camera shop.

By this time Harvey had lost his ‘conservative’ image and ideals and had grown his hair. Because of laws and discrimination against homosexuality, the growing gay population and various other political incidents, Harvey finally had enough and decided to get involved.

He was a ‘natural’ politician and had found his vocation. He was a forthright and flamboyant speaker earning support for his policies. He was very good at forming coalitions bringing together various groups with vested interests eg the campaign against a beer company. Politics in San Francisco was becoming more and more liberal. He reviewed his appearance and after two failed attempts was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public position. This was when homosexuality was not to the fore in public debate. He was a champion of local issues as well as of gay rights.

In 1978, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were both assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled ex-city supervisor. White claimed ‘diminished responsibility’ and was convicted of manslaughter and given a 7 year sentence. This ridiculous sentence caused riots on the streets of San Francisco in 1979.

Several places in San Francisco have been named in his honour and President Obama posthumously awarded him the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ for what he did for the gay rights movement.

Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag – symbol of gay and lesbian rights. He was a friend of Harvey’s and perhaps was inspired by him.

Harvey Milk was a legend and a hero.

Ian and Callum.

With thanks to Wikipedia.


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    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thank you for stopping by, rlbert00. Harvey was indeed a trailblazer for human rights and should be alive today to see what has been achieved. And he was also an effective politician and tireless campaigner.


    • rlbert00 profile image

      rlbert00 6 years ago from USA

      I had never heard this story before, had seen the trailer for the Sean Penn movie but was clueless as to who this man was or his story. I enjoyed reading this and am truly shocked at the light sentenced handed down to the man that killed him. Enjoyable read. Nicely done.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      How beautifully and succinctly put, sarahzhints!

      Thank you.


    • sarahzhints profile image

      sarahzhints 6 years ago

      Homophobia is ignorance. The cure is education. Thank you for this article, as it teaches us something about a man of intelligence and integrity who happened to be gay.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Yes, Marcy, he was very passionate about what he saw as his vocation and didn't get to see it to fruition.

      It is indeed frightening that this sort of thing continues today.

      Thanks for your visit - you are a gem!


    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      What a true legend this man was. He was also, from what I've read here and there, an effective politician. I recall seeing clips of the shocked and emotional announcement of the joint assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. It is frightening that people in public office risk this sort of danger (which continues today), and it is equally frightening that there continue to be violent incidents founded in bias against races, religions, gender preferences and other issues of equal rights.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      He absolutely is and should still be alive today to see all the progress that has been made!


    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Harvey is my hero, he is the true pioneer of Gay Rights.

      Love this hub Ian



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