Photo of San Francisco Pride Day 2017

Celebrate Freedom and Free Speech: Harvey Milk

If I turned around every time somebody called me a faggot, I’d be walking backward – and I don’t want to walk backward.” Harvey Milk

I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. Almost everything was done in the eyes of the gay movement.  – Harvey Milk

At Harvey Milk Plaza
At Harvey Milk Plaza

Harvey Bernard Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Politics and gay activism were not his early interests; he was not open about his homosexuality and did not participate in civic matters until around the age of 40, after his experiences in the San Francisco of the 1960s.

Milk moved from New York City to settle in San Francisco in 1972 to the Castro District.

He took advantage of the growing political and economic power of the neighborhood to promote the rights of gays by running for political office.

Milk won a seat as a city supervisor in 1977.

Milk served almost 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city.

On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.

In 2002, Milk was called “the most famous and most important LGBT official ever elected in the United States”.

Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.”

President Obama awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

“It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.”

– Harvey Milk, after winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977

The Last words of Harvey Milk–Found at the Internet Archives

(c) Rob Goldstein 2015 All Rights Reserved

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9 thoughts on “Celebrate Freedom and Free Speech: Harvey Milk

  1. This is very moving. I had not known much about Harvey Milk, so the opportunity to learn more is great. And I had no idea what a giant of a man he was. I think I’m going to look up more about him. There must be a biography….Thank you, Rob!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many of the men who gave themselves to the Gay Liberation could have chosen to stay in hiding which also meant keeping male privilege.

      They were principled and many paid a very high price.

      I don’t know any one who is still alive who regrets the choice.

      I spoke with my first partner tonight and we talked about how different it is now for young men who must still anguish over their sexuality but much less so today.

      Even though my former partner is a middle class property owner, his comment was “if the only people who benefit from the work we did are white middle class gays and lesbians then the Gay Rights Movement will join feminism as a failure.

      Whether or not one agrees with the proposition that feminism failed I think the thrust of his argument is worth considering.

      Gay Liberation was very much about the right of people to participate in the American Dream. And the best part of that dream was class mobility.

      Without class mobility, our rights are just window dressing.

      If the only people who benefit from our movement are people who are already economically entitled then nothing will really have changed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Truth. I never understood the feminist movement, because I always worked in traditional “men’s” jobs. I very much experienced intense bullying, especially when I began my medical studies. Even today women have to adopt the “straight guy” attitude if they’re going to succeed.

        I have a friend who is devoutly Orthodox Jewish, in Israel, 100% gay, doesn’t want to be anything but Orthodox, believes in the Torah, and of course agonizes over the question, “If I’m an “abomination,” why did God make me?” Yes, there are “special” congregations for “people like us,” but all he wants is to be able to live an Orthodox religious life in the “regular” population and be out. I’m sure this happens in other religions, but this is someone I’m very close to, so I know and participate in his agony at having to be tightly closeted in order to not be ejected from his life.

        I think that until gender and sexual preference issues become non-issues, we’re going to have across-the-board inequality.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting points that you make.

        When you mention the experience of having to adopt a ‘straight guy” attitude I know the pressure as a “gay” who was out.

        It was a pressure to become an honorary straight white man.

        I could be gay and keep my job as long as I didn’t expect to have any real power or respect.

        I extended this concept of the honorary straight white male to include certain members of the Africa-American community and right wing feminists.

        “Liberals” on Fox News are a kind of honorary straight white male even if they are straight and white and male.

        I think that one of the reasons Hillary Clinton is so despised is that she refuses to be either the “little woman” or an honorary straight white man.

        Hillary Clinton is comfortable in her skin and comfortable with authority and doesn’t need the permission or adulation of a man to assert herself.

        There are certainly valid reasons to question her dedication to the progressive agenda but I don’t think most of her haters can see past the fact that she’s an “uppity woman.”

        Clarence Thomas is another perfect example honorary straight white African American male. He behaves like an entitled ingrate instead of treating the sacrifices that earned him his seat with respect.

        Affirmative Action is nothing less than a belated attempt to correct the injustices inflicted on the African American community in the century after the end of the American Civil War.

        Affirmative Action understood that systematic racism is designed to cut African-Americans out of the social networks they needed for economic mobility.

        Instead of killing Affirmative Action, the legislation should be broadened to include “Class” – so that all of the children of the poor can have a chance to bring their gifts to fruition.

        The primary characteristics of the honorary straight white male are ingratitude, self-loathing, and a willingness to enable brutality against his own people.

        In Germany, they were called quislings.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well said. One of the many jobs that put me through six years of combined med/grad school was tutoring Affirmative Action med students. Instead of searching for really talented people who needed a leg up in the system, “The System” seemed to randomly pick some black kids, asked them if they wanted to be doctors, dragged them through high school and undergrad via athletic scholarships mostly, and then plunked them down in med school, there ya go. Most of them were really nice people, but didn’t have the native intelligence to be doctors. It was criminal, because they endured terrible humiliation when they found they just lacked the skills to do the work. My job was to get them through their first board exam. One of my tutees was a really lovely woman with whom I became close friends. It took her five tries to pass her boards. She kept at it, bless her, and finally after years of struggle became a very fine psychiatrist. Unfortunately she was the exception. I often found myself gritting my teeth, because I grew up in poverty, as a minority (the only Jewish person in every town we ever lived in), and without any support whatsoever from any quarter, and I had to bust ass working two jobs to get through school, while all they had to do was be black. On the other hand, I met a lot of black physicians from families way higher on the food chain than mine, good private schools, Ivy League or Howard depending on political leanings, who largely turned out to be excellent doctors, top of the line. One of my mentors was a black woman family physician married to a white man. We would have been lovers but it would have wounded our husbands, so we were best friends instead. She was just regular folks like me, no political agenda, just a good doc and a good friend. And a bit queer, which always helps 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      4. One way to destroy a program that was designed to counteract the racial aspects of the class system is to abuse it. Conservatives break the programs that are supposed to create class mobility and then accuse the government of incompetence. Do you want people to hate Social Security? Stifle it with rules that are designed to make people suffer and employ arrogant over worked people to serve as case managers.

        It is sad that Affirmative Action emerged just as Karl Rove began to implement the Southern Strategy that won Nixon the White House and would later win it for Reagan. Affirmative Action was one of their first code words.

        If you wanted to cripple a human rights agenda use hate and class envy to divide the people.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Servants are supposed to live in fear and discomfort…

        If they have security and educations that will refuse to be servants…

        If the people are ever stupid enough to elect the Dixiecrat to all three branches again of government again, (yes, I know they call themselves Republicans) they will kill the ACA the way they killed public education; with a thousand small cuts.

        Like

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