Harvey Milk

by Syd Werner from San Diego , California in United States

"It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect an individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions."

"I stand here in front of my gay sisters, brothers, and friends because I am proud. I think it’s time we have many legislators who are gay and proud of the fact and do not remain in the closet” (Milk). These were the words of Harvey Milk, who would soon become the first openly gay supervisor, and a source of hope for all. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician and a symbol for the LGBT community. Little did this man know that his words were reaching people all over the country, not just in the town of San Francisco. His saying that he was going to be the voice for all of the outcasts who felt like they had no voice touched millions, leading to him having many gay and lesbian supporters. He lived in a time where people with sexualities other than heterosexual were considered sick and in need of help. In many places being gay was against the law, and in some punishable by death. “He moved to San Francisco after the war forced him to come out. Getting him discharged from the army and in need of a home. He ran for board of supervisors because he realized just how many people needed hope and someone to lead them” (Harvey milk). He believed if he could win equality in San Francisco that he could inspire other parts of country, and maybe the world. He not only wanted to help his fellow people in the LGBT community, but those who struggled for different reasons. He fought for gay rights while also fighting for others who were treated unfairly. He inspired others to use their voice and to be themselves no matter what. He fought for what he wanted and persisted when others told him him dream was impossible. He fought bravely for what he believed in and did what he had to do to make a better future for all. Harvey Milk is a hero because his persistence for equality in the LGBT group inspired people to be brave and to fight for equality.

Many disagreed and discriminated him from office. However, he persisted in the face of discrimination and fought for what he dreamed of. Because of who Harvey Milk was and what he believed in, many believed he did not have the knowledge and skill to have any place in the government. They believed that because he was gay no one would vote for him and that he would win no favor. “Following an alleged extortion attempt against him, he decided to run for council office in 1973. In doing so, he challenged the city's more conservative gay establishment--including Jim Foster's Society for Individual Rights (SIR)--who believed that San Francisco would not be able to cope with a gay councilor” ("Harvey Milk." St. James ). People against him like Jim Foster believed that he should not run. They doubted his ability to run for office and be taken seriously. Harvey Milk knew this but ran for supervisor anyway because he knew people needed him. He used his persistence and passion for his cause to focus on what was best for the community. Harvey Milk was completely aware of how many people disagreed with him. “Many people still believed that homosexuality was a illness or something that considered one mental” (Thatchell). This gave him setbacks and made it very difficult for Milk to have a strong following outside of the LGBT community. One example of Milk’s struggle is written in the article "Harvey Bernard Milk." “Milk did not win in 1973, but he did not give up hope. He ran again in 1975. All six incumbents were re-elected, Milk came seventh. Although he lost, Milk was finally taken seriously as a politician” (Harvey Bernard Milk). Despite trying twice to run for a spot in the government, and being denied both times, he continued to try and did not get discouraged. He hard work and efforts did not go to waste or go unnoticed. His attempts at running for supervisor caught the attention of other minorities who wished for equality in all communities. They wanted someone in office they could relate to and someone who truly wanted equal rights for all people. Many of those minorities were the ones who did vote for him and wanted to see him succeed. The people of the LGBT community finally had someone to represent them in a good light, and break the horrible stereotypes that had been built around them. It is stated in the Harvey Bernard Milk article that “Harvey Milk was a caring, hard working man devoted to the people he represented. He symbolized the strength of the Gay and Lesbian community in the face of political opposition. His greatest message was that he wanted hope for the gay community in the face of adversity” (Harvey Bernard Milk).

Harvey Milk was someone who provided hope for all the people he fought for. The adversity in the work space required him to be persistent for the sake of everyone who was counting on him. He worked hard so that he could be a beacon of hope for those who he had inspired. Harvey Milk’s persistence in the face of adversity and discrimination gave the LGBT community someone to believe in. Harvey knew that because of the LGBT’s place in society that he would have to be resilient and persist when put in a difficult situation.

After Milk had gained a good following, it was impossible to deny that he has started to make an impact. People of all communities agreed with what he believed in and were inspired by his efforts and passion for the LGBT community. He was most well known for his speeches about hope. He believed he could end the discrimination against the gay community by making people more aware. This was seen when Milk was finally elected supervisor after many failed attempts. “When Milk announced the two to one victory for gays, he also encouraged all gays to 'come out,' or make known their sexual orientation to friends and relatives. Milk felt that this was the only way to put an end to the myths about homosexuality” ("Harvey Bernard Milk.").

After being elected supervisor, his first message was for everyone to “come out.” He wanted to inspire people to be brave and take a leap of faith just as he had. He knew that the only way end discrimination against gays was for everyone to be honest to themselves and others. This encouraged his “followers” to be open about themselves and put an end to the stereotypes. His obvious following and leadership started to not only attract the attention of friends, but foes as well. As his followings grew, so did the support for his gay rights movement. Unfortunately this law was not favored by everyone. ”His greatest message was one of hope for the gay community in the face of adversity. While he made many contributions and impetus to the gay rights movement in the 1970s, his life was tragically ended by an assassin. As Milk prophetically stated, 'If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door'" ("Harvey Milk." Gay & Lesbian Biography).

This quote was said by Milk when he was told to give a speech should he ever be assassinated. While he was fully aware of the high risk of being killed, he continued to go on with his movement. Harvey Milk’s death was a tragedy that affected millions, especially those a part of the LGBT community. The man who had shot and killed Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone was Dan White. A political opponent to Harvey Milk. White believed that Harvey had no right to run for supervisor as a gay man and said that this was what drove him to assassinate Harvey and his supporter the mayor. At the the trial of Dan White, he was charged with two accounts of manslaughter. The press claimed that White had been depressed, even going as far as to use the “twinkie defense," saying that Dan White could not be held accountable because he had, prior to the assassination, eaten too much junk food. This caused outrage in the gay and lesbian community. White’s trial was struck up many violent protests and riots including The White Night Riots. “The "White Night Riots" that followed Dan White's sentencing signaled the refusal of gays, lesbians, and their supporters to stop the progress that Harvey Milk had committed himself to achieving. Several thousand people surged from the Castro District to City Hall demanding justice.” ("Harvey Bernard Milk." ). While these protests and riots were violent, so violent that many were injured and killed, they were still started because of one man. Harvey Milk’s hope had spread across San Francisco so much that many were deeply hurt when told of his death and the killer's unfair trial. His death inspired people to demand justice for Harvey because of what he had done for the community. “The White Night Riots” was something that happened because of one man’s hope. Harvey Milk inspired people to fight for what they believed in and to be open about who they really were. His legacy and dream was something so powerful that it started a riot. He was an inspiration to those who felt that they were not heard in society. He was able to spread a powerful message in time that he was supervisor.

What Milk did for the LGBT community took extreme courage and bravery. The time period Milk lived in did not allow gay and lesbian people to live and love freely. They considered gays sick and perverted. Milk stepping into the public allowed a new perspective on gay and lesbian people. Many living in that time were told to hide their sexuality by “staying in the closet.” Many feared losing their jobs or being mocked and taunted; death was even something to be feared. However, Harvey Milk did not allow this to stop him and continued to be open about who he was. “Milk, who would have turned 70 on May 22, succeeded in ways he never imagined. In November 1977, Milk became the first openly gay person ever elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors. It was a time when an open gay in high public office seemed not just unlikely, but absurd” (The legacy of Harvey Milk.). What he did was considered impossible at the time. No one in office was so open about their sexuality, no one except Harvey. He knew that if he could “come out” and show that he was proud, that it might change the opinions of those who doubted him. Harvey Milk’s calm approach to his sexuality did not however appeal to many people. Many people believed that gay people were child abusers and would turn their kids gay. TV shows, magazines, commercials, celebrities, all had protesters saying that gays were violent, sick, perverted people. “Opponents of gay rights championed the threatened nuclear family and claimed that homosexuals were 'unnatural' and 'perverted,' recruiters of heterosexuals to their cause, and molesters of children. Individuals such as Anita Bryant--pop singer, born-again Christian, orange juice publicist, and head of the anti-gay organization Save Our Children, Inc.--campaigned and sometimes won” ("Harvey Milk." St. James ). To “come out” during this time, to be so open about one's sexuality, was not only dangerous but took bravery. Many people saw these ads and protests and believed what they said. This made it extremely difficult for anyone took take Harvey Milk seriously. However, Harvey did it anyway. He came out to the public, encouraged other gay people to come out as well, and even brought his boyfriend to a dinner event where most politicians brought their wives. Harvey Milk took a calm approach to the hate he received. He believed that this anger was caused by blind hate and ignorance and chose to not let it affect him or his movement.

"I cannot prevent anybody from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated.... I can only hope they turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive ... and hundreds will step forward, so that gay doctors come out, the gay lawyers, gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects. I hope that every professional gay would just say 'Enough'" ("Harvey Milk." Gay & Lesbian Biography). This quote was from his speech he was told to record should he be assassinated. Even in a fearful situation and in a time of hate, he chose to respond with peace. He knew that he could not make everyone see things the way he did. However, he at least hoped that his time in office would make a difference. The courage that Harvey Milk took into his movement was what helped move it forward. To fight for equality in a time that had so much hate require bravery. The type of bravery that was able to start a movement that went directly against what everyone was told to think. The pressure of being the first gay supervisor, and the stereotypes that clouded around the LGBT community, was a challenge. A challenge that Harvey Milk took with peace and bravery at his side.

"It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power," he said in his tape-recorded will. "It's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvania's, hope. You gotta give them hope" (Harvey milk). Harvey Milk’s bravery and persistent was what furthered gay and lesbian equality. He was an inspiration to all who felt that they had no hope. Harvey Milk always believed that the people needed hope. That was what he always stood for, hope. He was hopeful that with persistence and bravery, that he could make a better future for the LGBT community. Harvey Milk is an inspiration to me because of his bravery and dedication. He did not allow fear and ignorance to stop him for achieving his goal. I believe that we all can learn from Harvey Milk's calm approach to the hate he received. He choose to take that negativity and turn it into something positive. We all could be more like Harvey Milk and have more hope.

Harvey Milk made a long-lasting impact on the world after he was assassinated and even before. He had many supporters who helped and encouraged him to run for office and change the laws against gay individuals. With his bravery and encouraging words, he was able to lead congress into passing gay rights. He went on to change other laws he felt discriminated against people who deserved basic human rights. His inspiration led to parades and even a day in his honor, where everyone can recognize his bravery and persistence with helping others.

Works Consulted 

Cloud, John. "Why Milk is Still Fresh." The Advocate, 10 November 1998. Available from
"Harvey Bernard Milk." Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995. Biography In Context, Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
"Harvey Bernard Milk." Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1998. Biography In Context, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019
"Harvey Bernard Milk." Gale Biography in Context, Gale, 1999. Biography In Context, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

"Harvey Milk." Gay & Lesbian Biography, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus and Michael Bronski, St. James Press, 1997. Biography In Context, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

"Harvey Milk." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Gale, 2013. Biography In Context, Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.
"How Harvey Milk's fight for social justice was fueled by Jewish tradition.", 22 June 2018. Student Resources In Context, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Tatchell, Peter. "Ever the trailblazer." Spectator, 15 Sept. 2018, p. 34+. Student Resources In Context, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

"The legacy of Harvey Milk." Knight Ridder/Tribune, 15 May 2000. Student Resources In Context,


Page created on 1/28/2019 6:04:50 PM

Last edited 5/19/2021 3:59:44 AM

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Related Links

Harvey milk history - The life and legacy of Harvey milk written by the editors at Tells of his childhood, personal life, life in politics, and his impact on the world.
The Voice of Harvey Milk - A quick description of Harvey Milks values and efforts. including the reason for his "Hope" speech and how it was an inspiration to everyone.
Milk - A group of officials who have created a national foundation to provide the life story of Harvey Milk. It continues to update and provide new found information.