Photo of San Francisco Pride Day 2017

Pride 2020: Harvey Milk and the Power of Hope

Imagine you live under a government that says who you are is shameful; you are a crime against nature.

Now imagine the courage it takes to stand up to that government and say, I’m proud of who I am.

Photograph of Havey Milk and his Partner Scott Smith in a plaque on Harvey Milk Plaza
A Photo of Harvey Milk and Scott Smith at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco (C) Rob Goldstein

In 1955, when the Navy forced Harvey Milk to resign over ‘questions’ about his sexual orientation, being a homosexual was the worst thing a person could be.

Homosexuality ranked with pedophilia as equal in the public mind, and sodomy was a crime in most States.

Coming Out was dangerous and revolutionary.

Photo from San Francisco's Pride day 2017
Pride 2017 (C) Rob Goldstein

 “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”

Harvey Milk was born May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, New York, to a family of Jewish Lithuanians.

His father served in the U.S. Navy as did his mother, who served as a “Yeomanette” in  World War I.

“As a youngster, Milk listened with his family to radio reports about the Warsaw Ghetto and the plight of Jews in Europe. There was  anti-semitism closer to home as well — nearby towns on Long Island were strongholds for the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.” The Essential Jewishness of Harvey Milk

Copy of a Nazi Soldiers fighting rat like Jews.
Fascist movements always demonize immigrants and minorities.

“Jews know we can’t allow discrimination—if for no other reason than we might be on that list someday.” Harvey Milk

In 1972 Milk moved to San Francisco and ran his first campaign for the Board of Supervisors in 1973; he framed gay liberation as part of a fight for the rights of all people.

According to The Advocate,

“[Milk] molded the gay community into a united voting bloc, and his populist agenda—which attracted straight families, working-class voters, and senior citizens—gave him a powerful base.”

He lost his second campaign in 1975, but he established himself as the leading political spokesman for the gay community with strong political allies and a growing activist base.

When friend and ally, Mayor George Moscone appointed him to the city’s Board of Permit Appeals, he became the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States.

“I know you can’t live on hope alone; but without hope, life is not worth living,” Harvey Milk

A Photo from Pride 2015
A Photo from Pride 2015- (C) Rob Goldstein

Milk won his 1977 campaign, and on January 9, 1978, he took his seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk was clear about why he ran for office as an openly gay man:

“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.”

Supervisor Milk introduced the Nation’s first bill to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the bill on March 22, 1978, and Mayor George Moscone signed it into law on April 11, 1978.

Harvey Milk spoke of the value of persisting in the fight to achieve the American ideal of equality:

“…we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”  Harvey Milk


Art by Rob Goldstein
Forever Queer, Clarion Alley 2012 (c) Rob Goldstein

Harvey Milk served as a supervisor for almost 11 months.

On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Dan White assassinated Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

“I can’t forget the looks on faces of people who’ve lost hope. Be they gay, be they seniors, be they blacks looking for an almost-impossible job, be they Latins trying to explain their problems and aspirations in a tongue that’s foreign to them. I personally will never forget that people are more important than buildings. I use the word “I” because I’m proud. I stand here tonight in front of my gay sisters, brothers, and friends because I’m proud of you.” Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk is an American hero because he used his passion and his rights to break through a wall of institutional homophobia and caused the United States to become a more perfect Union.

In 2009 the Nation thanked him for it when President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk with America’s highest civilian medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with the following citation:

“Harvey Bernard Milk dedicated his life to shattering boundaries and challenging assumptions. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in this country, he changed the landscape of opportunity for the Nation’s gay community. Throughout his life, he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction. Before his tragic death in 1978, he wisely noted, “Hope will never be silent,” and called upon Americans to stay true to the guiding principles of equality and justice for all. Harvey Milk’s voice will forever echo in the hearts of all those who carry forward his timeless message.”

The Obama White House Archives

What you get as a citizen of the United States are the tools you need to petition the government for change. The government may or may not listen to you, and if it doesn’t, you get loud.

Photograph of a sign that reads Silence - Death
Silence = Death 2019 (c) Rob Goldstein
A protest sign at the 2019 Women's March that reads our rights are not up for grabs
Our rights are not up for grabs, and neither are we – 2019,  (c), Rob Goldstein

Harvey Milk got loud, and his faith in the power of hope is still changing our lives.

Rob Goldstein 2020


43 thoughts on “Pride 2020: Harvey Milk and the Power of Hope

  1. I just found out that I wasn’t following you anymore. I am so sorry. I did not notice at all. But I am back on your train now, Robert!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful piece on Harvey & his work to bring marginalized folks together. I remember hearing of his assassination along with Mayor Moscone. I was living in Santa Cruz pursing modern dance. It was devastating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing Harvey Milk’s story, Rob. He believed in change and paid for it with his life. I’m glad that it wasn’t for nothing. The only way we can grow as caring humans is to listen and LEARN.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Harvey Milk and the Gay Rights Movement prove that when ordinary Americans take a stand and use our rights to challenge the system, we can force the system to question itself and change. It takes dedication and time. And hope. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A truly powerful, and glorious story for me to read Robert….. his dedication and passion is spiritually inspirational….
    “You may never know what results of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “I don’t own much
    I don’t owe much
    I share what I have
    I have love and hope”…..Ivor…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It all started with the street kids and outcasts of the West Village in New York. One night they said no to living like criminals and started a movement that survives. The LGBTQ communities are proof that citizens will get justice if they are willing to unite and fight for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1.         At a moment like this each of has is his own weapon against gas-lighting and lies: our blogs. I like to provide links to as many credible news outlets as possible. I may make this a weekly feature. A Friday news wrap up. What do you think?     

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I would love that for sure! Yes you are right Rob I never thought of it that way. It is our way to fight back. I almost quit because he told my son he discovered my blog and was very mad. But my kids encouraged me to keep writing! So yes it is our weapon and voice! Thanks so much 😀😀😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I lived in SF Bay area for over 20 years (starting in 1983) so I learned a lot about/from Harvey Milk. He’s a hero in my eyes, and he is to most San Franciscans. Excellent post here, Robert.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 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.


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