Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk Day - Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Federal Civic Civil Rights Historical LGBTQ

On May 22, we honor the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in California and a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. Time magazine included Harvey Milk on a list titled “The 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.” Milk was not only an advocate for the LGBT community, but for all minorities. He believed in safe, strong neighborhoods and supported public education, affordable childcare, and equal rights for all.

Elected to the position of city supervisor in San Francisco, he held office for one year before his life was tragically cut short in 1978 by a political rival who opposed Milk’s liberal views. Harvey Milk’s contributions to the cause of equality for all people has been recognized in a number of ways, including the issuance of a stamp with his picture on it, the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Freedom, and the creation of a holiday in his memory. Harvey Milk Day was officially established as a holiday in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor of California, signed it into law. Although Milk died, his work continues today through the work of the Milk Foundation, founded by his nephew Stuart Milk, in honor of his uncle.

The struggle faced by the LGBTQ community has been going on for generations in this country, and for thousands of years around the world.  Harvey Milk was one of the heroes of that struggle, being the first official to be elected that was openly gay in California.

While he was assassinated he accomplished important steps for the community during his time in office. Harvey Milk Day celebrates this incredible man and the sacrifices he made so people could just live their lives in peace.

History of Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk was a career politician who was born in May of 1930 in New York City.  When he first discovered he was a homosexual while in his teens he knew he had to keep it quiet.  His parents, traditional Lithuanian Jews, would have been destroyed by this revelation.

He did an excellent job of keeping it under wraps, serving in the military until 1955. He moved back to New York after being discharged, and would ultimately move to San Francisco in 1972.

There he actively began working to help promote the rights of the LGBTQ community in San Francisco, though his first steps weren’t easily received.

The local gay political community was understandably insular, and Harvey hadn’t been around very long. His natural ability to bring people together helped to cut through this ice over time.  It wouldn’t be until 1978 that he finally got to run for office with the support of the local community.

Winning the election he went on to push for a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for housing, public accommodations, and employment.

It ultimately passed, but it would be followed by the assassination of himself and George Moscone by another supervisor of the city, Dan White. Harvey Milk Day celebrates everything he did for his community and ensures that his sacrifice will never be forgotten.

How to Celebrate Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk Day is an opportunity to serve the LGBTQ community, whether you’re a member of it or an ally.  The struggles that members of this community have faced in their quest for basic human rights is incredible, and there’s still a long way to go.  

Donate to important organizations that are fighting for human rights, and let those around you know that you’re there to support them. Harvey Milk died fighting for basic human rights, this holiday is your opportunity to help make sure no one else has to.

How to Observe Harvey Milk Day

  1. Fly a rainbow flag

    The rainbow flag, also known as the gay rights flag, promotes the social and political causes of the LGBT community. It has also been called the peace flag and the freedom flag. No matter which moniker you favor, it’s a true representation of Harvey Milk who believed in equal rights for all, peace, and freedom.

  2. Read Milk’s speech “Hope”

    The “Hope” speech was the speech Harvey Milk gave when he announced his candidacy, and he later gave an expanded version at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco in 1978. Although the speech opens with a joke, its content is serious and he believed, “You have to give people hope”. He also knew he was fighting a difficult battle for equality and rights for homosexual people. He stated, “The first gay people we elect must be strong.” Finally, he believed, “Hope is never silent”.

  3. Donate to support the Harvey Milk Foundation

    According to one of the top San Francisco PR Firms, the Harvey Milk foundation was founded in the wake of Milk’s death by his nephew, Stuart Milk and by Harvey Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, who wished see Milk’s message for equality come to fruition. The non-profit organization’s goal is to celebrate the diversity of humanity and to be sure no group is excluded from the rights afforded society on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, ability or ethnicity. You can visit the milkfoundation.org to find out how to support this organization.

Why Harvey Milk Day is Important

  1. Equality is still an ideal for which we are fighting

    Harvey Milk ran on a platform of equal rights for all people regardless of gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or race. Although we’ve made some momentous gains, gaps still remain. Women currently earn only 70-93% of what their male counterparts make, depending on the field. Transgender bathroom use is being debated state by state, and there’s tremendous controversy over the immigration ban. The fight for equality for which Harvey Milk’s life was sacrificed remains as relevant today as it was in 1978.

  2. Harvey Milk gave his life for the cause of equality

    Harvey Milk knew he was risking his life from the time he began to push for equality. As a homosexual politician, he received a number of death threats. However, this did not stop him from advancing the concept of equal rights. As city supervisor, he fought against a state-wide initiative that discriminated against homosexuals teaching in public schools. Harvey Milk won that battle and formed the Castro Village Association, which became a model for other LGBT communities in the United States. Milk wanted this message to go forth: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” He gave his life for the American ideal of equality.

  3. Milk believed government represents individuals

    With divisions in the country today, it is important to go back to a basic civil liberties lesson in which Harvey Milk believed. He believed that every person was important and valuable and needed representation. He believed elected officials needed to advocate for those whose voices were not being heard or who did not have a voice to speak for themselves. He promoted diversity in government, believing people needed to see themselves represented across all branches of government. He truly believed in a government by the people, of the people and for the people.

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