A much-anticipated biopic of Harvey Milk, the first prominent American political figure to be out of the closet, will star Sean Penn.

Two Hollywood directors are to make biopics of Milk and Penn is to star in the Gus Van Sant version. They will start shooting in San Francisco in December.

X-Men director Bryan Singer is to make his own Milk movie in collaboration with The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie.

Van Sant directed My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Only Cowgirls Get The Blues.

Harvey Milk was probably the first out gay male politician in American history.

Known during his lifetime as “The Mayor of Castro Street,” he is regarded as a political icon amongst gay activists for his ability to build the LGBT community into a grassroots political force.

Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

In his 11 months in office he sponsored a gay rights bill and helped to defeat a proposition that would have seen openly gay and lesbian teachers sacked.

He was gunned down at City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former Supervisor, on November 27th 1978. It is reported that Matt Damon will play White in the Van Sant biopic.

White also killed the city’s mayor in his gun rampage.

Milk was recently honoured with a bust on permanent display in San Francisco City Hall, a rare accolade for someone who never held the position of Mayor.

It will be a permanent reminder of the unique place the city of San Francisco had in forming a new, politically active gay identity in the 1970s.

Milk had foreseen his own untimely death, and made several audio tapes to be played if he was assassinated.

One had recorded upon it his most famous statement, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

When White only received seven years in jail for Milk’s murder, San Francisco’s gay community rioted. More than 160 people were injured.

Many gay and lesbian community institutions are named in his honour, among them the Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco, the Harvey Milk Institute, the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club, and the Harvey Milk High School in New York City.