The hauntingly beautiful last words of gay pioneer Harvey Milk that still ring true today
Harvey Milk always knew his life would come to a juddering halt one day, and nine days before he was killed at gunpoint 42 years ago today (27 November), he recorded a tape which would become his last words.
A tape of himself speaking into a lone microphone, capturing what would come to be his final words and a treatise for his vision of what the world could be one day.
Milk, 48, was the first openly LGBT+ person to hold public office in the US. A queer rights pioneer, the San Fransisco supervisor battled against then dominating homophobic legislators and groups to the fledgeling movement activism in the States.
In dedicating his life to improving lives and advocating for a more equitable, inclusive society, the Long, Island, New York, native encapsulated his worldview in what would become his treatise.
After Milk’s murder in 1978, his associates made public the tape etched with his final words.
Harvey Milk: His hauntingly beautiful last words preserved on tape
The tape began: “This is Harvey Milk speaking on Friday, 18 November, 1978. This tape is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination.
“I fully realise that a person who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes the target or potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid or very disturbing.
“Knowing that I could be assassinated at any moment, at any time, I feel it’s important that some people know my thoughts, and why I did what I did. Almost everything that was done was done with an eye on the gay movement.”
“I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad in response to my death, but I hope they will take the frustration and madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise.
“I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know.
“That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine.
I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.
“All I ask is for the movement to continue, and if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
First openly gay official slain by former political rival
Milk was murdered by his political opponent and former supervisor Dan White some 10 months after being elected to the San Fransisco Board of Supervisors.
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It was a moment months in the making.
In 1978, Milk struck down Proposition Six, which would have mandated the firing of state public school teachers. White was the sole supervisor who voted against Milk.
After quitting from his post 10 months in, White urged mayor George Moscone to rescind his resignation, citing money troubles. Moscone refused and, on the morning of 27 November, White slung into City Hall through an open window and gunned both Moscone and Milk.
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.