With the elections for European parliament taking place, it seems that a number of people may not be aware that today is also Harvey Milk day in California. The day commemorates the Gay Rights activist Harvey Milk who persevered in being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 after three unsuccessful attempts and has been penned as the first openly gay man elected to public office in a major city. Although today is not a state holiday in California the day is celebrated by schools as well as the gay community.
After being assassinated by a Dan White, disgruntled city supervisor, in November 1978, Milk is considered both an influential figure as well as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America, despite his limited time in office, having served only eleven months in political power. Since his sexual orientation was prone to hate crimes that were inadequately responded to by the police, Milk put a lot of importance on the sense of community especially in his neighbourhood; the Castro District. By opposing the closure of an elementary school in the area, Milk showed how a neighbourhood mainly derived of homosexuals had the potential to welcome everyone, as the closure would mostly have affected the heterosexual community in the area. In doing so, Milk helped in proving that all sexualities could exist in harmony as well as show that a gay man was just as willing and capable to campaign for a better society.
Nearing the end of his short political career, Milk made one of his most important messages which still echoes to this day. He emphasised the importance of making gay people more visible. He suggested that by doing so, years of discrimination and violence towards homosexuality could finally end. Milk hoped that ‘every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody…’ to prove that homosexuality surrounds all lifestyles and should be treated as something which does not affect one’s ability to work or maintain a sense of professionalism. Most importantly, Milk wanted to express how gay people are in essence no different to straight people and shouldn’t affect community spirit.
By attempting to change how gay people were perceived by society that made leading a homosexual lifestyle dangerous, and sponsoring a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation, Milk is a true hero that gave his life for an improved society, not only for the gay community but for the entire city. His courage in standing up for his cause and persistence in being voted into power is admirable despite the number of death threats he received and the loss of his boyfriends; Scott Smith and Jack Lira. These losses can be put down to Milk’s perseverance to succeed in politics. Milk never stopped believing in his dream of unity and neither shall we; let his actions never be forgotten by commemorating him on this day, every year, not just in California but worldwide.
For more information on Harvey Milk & Harvey Milk Day please visit the Harvey Milk Foundation