Birthday: May 22, 1930
Died At Age: 48
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Harvey Bernard Milk
Born in: Woodmere
Quotes By Harvey Milk
political ideology: Democratic
father: William Milk
mother: Minerva Karns Milk
siblings: Robert Milk
Died on: November 27, 1978
place of death: San Francisco City Hall
Cause of Death: Assassination
Founder/Co-Founder: San Francisco Gay Democratic Club
education: University at Albany, The State University of New York (1947–1951), Bay Shore High School (1947), Bay Shore High School
awards: 2009 - Presidential Medal of Freedom
Who was Harvey Milk?
America’s first openly gay politician, Harvey Bernard Milk was an icon for the gay community in the United States and a champion of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement. Basically a native of New York, he moved to San Francisco during a mass migration of gay men to the city. The environment in San Francisco was more encouraging towards the gay rights movement and he began to actively participate in local politics. During his initial years he had kept his sexual orientation a secret but later came out of the closet as he realized that he would be able to do more for the LGBT community as an openly gay politician. After running unsuccessfully for political office three times he was finally elected as a city supervisor. His selection made national headlines in the country as it was the first time an openly gay candidate had been elected. Upon occupying the office, one of the first initiatives he took was to sponsor a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation—this was a very significant step in furthering the civil rights of the LGBT community. He became a very popular politician due to his concern for the people. Unfortunately he was assassinated after serving just 11 months in office.
Childhood & Early Life
He was the son of Jewish parents William Milk and Minerva Karns. His family owned a departmental store.
He attended the Bay Shore High School and graduated in 1947. He played football and developed an interest in opera while there. He realized that he was homosexual but kept this a secret; no one at his school or college suspected his sexual orientation.
He enrolled at New York State College for Teachers in 1947 and graduated in 1951 with a major in mathematics. He was a friendly and extroverted student who was liked by all.
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He served in the United States Navy during the Korean War. He was discharged from the Navy in 1955 at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.
He took up a teaching job at George W. Hewlett High School. Dissatisfied with his career, he tried his hand at several other jobs, including stints as a stock analyst and a Wall Street investment banker.
He moved to San Francisco with his partner, Scott Smith, in 1972. San Francisco had the largest population of gays during that time. They opened a camera store called Castro Camera. Milk was a caring individual and became well-known within his neighborhood. He had a keen interest in solving people’s problems and thus decided to enter politics.
He ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1973 and lost due to lack of experience. He again declared his candidacy in 1974 and again lost—but by this he had become a more popular political force and had the public’s support.
Due to his popularity in the neighborhood, he was affectionately called the ‘Mayor of Castro Street’. In 1977 he finally won a seat on the San Francisco City-County Board and was inaugurated in January 1978 — becoming the first openly gay individual to be elected to office in the United States.
One of the first steps he took was to sponsor a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was met with enthusiasm and good cheer by the majority of the public, especially the LGBT community. Only one of his colleagues, Supervisor Dan White was opposed to this as he believed it led to the breakdown of traditional norms.
He encouraged the LGBT individuals to come out and participate in political activities. He believed that visibility was necessary to garner support for the LGBT civil rights movement and to sensitize the general public about the unique issues faced by gays.
He also focused on solving another big problem faced by the community, that of dog excrement left by the pet dogs in the pavements. He worked on a city ordinance that required pet owners to scoop their pets’ excrements.
He was concerned not just about the welfare of the LGBT community, but about all the sections of the society. He took steps to promote lesser expensive child care, free public transportation and the development of a board of civilians to oversee the police.
As a Supervisor he passed a gay rights ordinance and defeated the Briggs Initiative which would have banned members of the LGBT community from working in public schools. He was a gay icon and leader of the LGBT civil rights movement who set the precedent for several of the gay rights leaders today.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award of the United States—posthumously in 2009 for his contribution to the gay rights movement.
Personal Life & Legacy
He realized during his adolescence that he was gay. He had been in relationships with many men including Craig Rodwell, Joe Campbell, and Scott Smith.
One of his detractors in politics was his colleague, Dan White who was also a Supervisor. He was bitterly opposed to Milk’s policies and activities and shot him dead on November 27, 1978.
Milk was a cultural icon and several books, plays, and films have been based on his life.