Harvey Milk Day

Celebrating the life and legacy of a gay rights champion, and California first openly gay elected official.

HomoCulture Simon Elstad

This article was published on May 19th, 2020

Celebrated each year on May 22, Harvey Milk Day honors the life, times, and legacy of Harvey Milk – California’s first openly gay politician and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement.

It became an official holiday in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor of California, signed it into law. The Harvey Milk Foundation organizes the day’s activities centered around Milk’s work to stop the LGBT community’s discrimination.

Harvey Milk and homosexuality in politics

Who was Harvey Milk?

Harvey Milk was an influential gay activist in the twentieth century. Time Magazine included him on a list title “The 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.” He was not only an advocate of LGBT+ issues, but for all minorities, and a strong supporter of strong neighborhoods, public education, and affordable childcare.

Before joining politics, Harvey was a diving officer onboard a US Navy submarine rescue ship during the Korean War. He’d also tried other career paths such as insurance actuary, a researcher for Wall Street firm Bache & Company, and business owner on Castro Street in San Francisco.

Harvey held the position of city supervisor in San Francisco for one year before he was assassinated. Despite the short term in office, he’d achieved significant milestones and legislation including:

  • Campaigned against Proposition 6, a bill by California State Senator John Briggs in 1978 that sought to ban gay/lesbian teachers from teaching in California public schools. During this time, he delivered his now-famous “Hope Speech” at the Gay Freedom Day Parade.

    Prop 6 lost by more than a million votes.
  • He pushed for a law to prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on sexual preferences. He also urged the city of San Francisco to hire more LGBT police officers.
  • A strong proponent of developing a civilian board to oversee public transportation, the police, and affordable childcare facilities.

Harvey Milk’s contributions to social justice and equality have been recognized posthumously, including a stamp with his picture, receiving the Medal of Freedom, and creating a special holiday in his memory. The Harvey Milk Terminal at SF International Airport is named after him.

Photo credit: SF Gate

Why Harvey Milk Day is important

Despite social progress on issues of equality, including the legalization of same-sex marriages, the Harvey Milk Day serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

Equality is still a work in progress.

Women still earn 70-90% of what men make in different industries. Their representation in the executive suite is still low. There also issues on transgender bathrooms, immigration, income inequality, among others.

The fight for equality remains relevant today, just like in the ’70s.

The government serves and represents individuals.

Harvey believed that elected individuals speak for the voiceless. He believed in equal representation and pushed for diversity in government. He firmly believed in a government by, of, and for the people, something we are still struggling with.

Harvey Milk and homosexuality in politics

How to participate in the Harvey Milk Day

1) Read Harvey Milk’s speech, “Hope.”

Harvey delivered this speech while launching his candidacy and later at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco in 1978. (an expanded version.)

While the speech opens with a joke, the content is serious. Harvey believed, “Hope is never silent” and that, “You have to give people hope.”

You can read Harvey’s “The Hope Speech” here.

2) Donate to the Harvey Milk Foundation

The Foundation was established after Harvey’s assassination by his nephew, Stuart Milk, and by Harvey Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, celebrates human diversity and equality.

It aims to ensure that no group is excluded from participation or denied any rights based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Visit milkfoundation.org to learn more and find out how to support the organization.

3) Fly a rainbow flag

What better way to celebrate an icon of the gay rights movement than with the rainbow flag?

Also called the gay rights flag, this multicolored flag promotes LGBT social and political causes. It’s also a sign of peace, freedom, community, and solidarity.

Equality rights leaders, Cleve Jones and Harvey Milk

The Harvey Milk Day is both a celebration of Harvey – an LGBT rights champion and constant reminder of the work remaining in guaranteeing equal rights for all regardless of their background.

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