39 years ago today the world lost Harvey Milk
Today marks the anniversary US politician and gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk.
Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, winning a post on the Board of Supervisors as a result of changes in the social makeup of San Francisco after three unsuccessful attempts to gain office.
Having finally been elected in 1977, Milk only held his position for 11 months before he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former colleague who had lost his position in city administration.
Milk, born in Woodmere, New York, died aged 48.
His legacy continues to live on. Writing recently in The Huffington Post, former US ambassador Nancy Brinker said: “Harvey Milk did something that few people ever do – he started a movement that changed the nation. His legacy lives on through the great work being done by his nephew, Stuart Milk, who accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Harvey’s behalf posthumously in 2009”.
Dan White was subsequently convicted of voluntary manslaughter, rather than of first degree murder. The verdict sparked the “White Night riots” in San Francisco, and led to the state of California abolishing the diminished capacity criminal defence.
White died by suicide in 1985, a little more than a year after his release from prison.
Harvey Milk was posthumously inducted into the California Hall of Fame after being portrayed by Sean Penn in the film ‘Milk’, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2009.
One of Milk’s core messages was visibility.
He famously said: “You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbours… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.”