The actor who plays gay politician Harvey Milk in a biopic to be released in the UK next year has said that his death left the community less able to push for action on AIDS.

Sean Penn, who has been tipped for an Oscar for Milk, said:

“Milk wouldn’t have stood quietly.

“He was a leader and he happened to be focused on the gay movement.

“Because the popular notion was that AIDS was a gay disease, certainly huge numbers of homosexuals died; I think he would’ve advanced that argument.

“I think people are dead because he died too soon.”

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 a political icon among 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.

Mr Penn said that “less people would’ve died of AIDS,” had Harvey Miilk lived.

“I think Ronald Reagan would’ve been forced to address AIDS. It was a tragic loss,” he said.

Directed by Academy Award nominee Gus Van Sant, Milk stars Josh Brolin, recently seen in the award-winning Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men, as Milk’s nemesis Dan White.

James Franco, best known for his role in the Spiderman films, plays Milk’s longterm partner Scott Smith.

Van Sant, nominated for an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, also directed My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Only Cowgirls Get The Blues.

Milk opens in the UK in January.