Secretly, I always tried to keep up with gay-related news stories when I was young. With no electronic media in those days, following national gay-related events was challenging, to say the least. I remember hearing about someone in San Francisco becoming the first openly gay elected official. Of course San Francisco. Here on the East Coast of the U.S., people are trained to believe that that beautiful City by the Bay is nothing more than a haven for gays. Like everyone there runs around in pink tutus, spreading fairy dust everywhere they go. People are strange.
Harvey Milk was his name. I locked that name into my memory bank, even as a young man. Even as a 20-year-old, I believed that more gays should become visible for who they were and the contributions they had to offer. Harvey Milk was a validation. In fact, we shared that same philosophy.
On his third attempt, Harvey was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The effects of his presence had national impact. Amongst the things he championed in a city where the misinformed thought was a gay paradise, Milk fought against discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace and housing market. He won. He fought for gays and lesbians to be hired as police officers in the City. He won. And, the fought the state senate in their effort to ban gays and lesbians from being teachers in California’s school systems. He won.
On November 27, 1978, after temporarily losing his sanity from eating too many Twinkies, former city Supervisor Dan White shot and killed both Harvey Milk and San Francisco then-Mayor, George Moscone. Three-thousand miles away, this 21-year-old heard the news and cried. Even without the instant access to news that we have today via the Internet and 24/7 cable news, I knew instinctively that Harvey had been assassinated because he was, in fact, a gay man. A gay man who tried to stand up and make a difference. In 1978, that was unheard of.
In 1986, I arrived in San Francisco. A new beginning. Until then, my world had consisted only of Maryland and Virginia. As a 27-year-old, wide-eyed openly gay man, I soaked in all of what this paradise had to offer. One of the first things I had to do was visit The Castro. Harvey’s old stomping ground. As I got off of the underground transit, MUNI, I walked out into Harvey Milk Plaza. And, I was frozen in time. There I stood, on the hallowed grounds where, less than a decade before, Harvey Milk launched a brilliant, if too short, political career.
Harvey did much more than fight for gay rights. As he saw it, gay rights was just another cog in the wheel of human rights. Basic human rights that, still today, we still fight to achieve. Harvey Milk worked hard for changes in education, transportation, low-income housing, and more. He was truly a politician for the people. As it should be. His life, and his promising political career, may have been cut short at the hands of former supervisor Dan White. His legacy, however, will live forever. In San Francisco. In California. And, around the country within the LGBT community. On this day, we celebrate the life and times of Harvey Milk. Happy 82nd birthday. Oh, and thank you for your contributions.