Harvey Milk

by Maggie from San Diego

“You have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow … hope that all will be all right

Harvey Milk served 11 months as City Supervisor in San Francisco, from 1977 to November of 1978. His initiative and honesty inspired and brought hope to many.

Milk tried his hand at many professions before beginning his meaningful, though tragically short, career as a San Francisco City Supervisor. After a brief stint in the Navy, he campaigned for conservatives, worked in the theatre, taught, and worked as a researcher on Wall Street. It was not until 1973, at age 43, that he opened Castro Camera in San Francisco and became interested in politics.

Harvey Milk, an inspiring speaker. (
Harvey Milk, an inspiring speaker. (

By 1973 Milk could no longer ignore his frustration with the government’s priorities and policies: “I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up.” Rather than sit and complain, as most people are wont to do, Milk decided to change the things that he saw happening in his neighborhood, city and country that he felt were not right. He fruitlessly ran for various political positions, including mayor and commissioner. It was not until the vociferously anti-homosexual campaigns of Anita Bryant and John Briggs that people elected Harvey Milk as City Supervisor.

“His first action as a tenured supervisor was to support a bill that outlawed any kind of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” (Ledbetter A21). “In 1978, Milk spoke and campaigned vehemently against “the Briggs Initiative”, Proposition 6, which would have made it illegal to employ homosexual teachers or any employees who supported equal rights for homosexuals” (VanDeCarr 32).

A memorial to Harvey Milk. (
A memorial to Harvey Milk. (

As supervisor, Milk worked tirelessly to lessen the financial burdens of low-income families. Two of his largest undertakings were seeking free public transportation and a lower-cost child care. He also supported an initiative that reorganized ballots such that neighborhoods elected their own representatives, free from the influence of money or big business.

Harvey Milk was struck down at the apex of his career. Milk’s and Mayor Moscone's assassinations by fellow supervisor Dan White resulted in controversy — both immediately after that fact and during White’s trial. White was sentenced for voluntary manslaughter rather than homicide and subsequently, served for a little over five years.

Just as he defied all other constraints of normalcy in politics, Harvey Milk needed no veneers to hide behind. Milk, a homosexual man, earned a meager salary as Supervisor and owned a small business to supplement this. He represented the trials and struggles that many San Franciscans faced daily.

Harvey Milk’s openness about his homosexuality and his refusal to apologize for, or hide, who he was inspired people across the country. “I hope that every professional gay would just say “enough!” come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know.” These words spoken by Milk into a tape recorder shortly before his assassination truly illustrate the spirit of his speeches, and the hope he spread to all people — male or female, young or old, gay or straight.

In Harvey Milk’s short, but remarkable, career he was a beacon of hope to all people who were different. He achieved this feat by never attempting to be anything but himself. Milk’s works in human activism extended beyond advances in the rights of homosexuals to the unions and to low income families living in San Francisco. The hope that Harvey Milk delivered to people would have been false and ill-received if he had been anything but relatable and charismatic.

Although ultimately he will chiefly be remembered as a gay politician, Harvey Milk’s inspiring works affected not just homosexual people, but all people. Through his initiative and honesty, Harvey Milk succeeded in breaking barriers, inspiring people, and changing politics as America knew it.

Page created on 2/12/2010 6:24:23 PM

Last edited 4/28/2018 9:47:47 PM

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