Based in the EU? Please order via our Etsy by clicking this banner 💖

Who was Harvey Milk? The First Openly Gay Elected Official in the United States

Photo of Harvey Milk on a pink background of San Francisco. Text reads Who Was Harvey Milk? - Harvey Milk Day, May 22nd 2024

Today (22nd May), is Harvey Milk Day. First established by the governor of California in 2009, this is a day of special significance for public schools in America who use the event to remember what Harvey Milk did to stop LGBTQIA+ discrimination as the first openly gay person elected to California public office. But, who exactly was Harvey Milk?

Who was Harvey Milk?

Harvey Milk was an American politician who made history as the first openly gay man to be elected in California as a representative for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. During his time on the board and throughout his campaign to get voted in, Milk became a trailblazing force against LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Harvey Milk passed a number of bills and legislation that gave the queer community in California fair access to housing, public facilities and employment. Milk’s measures made it illegal to deny these rights to LGBTQIA+ individuals solely because of their identity.

Left, Harvey Milk

Despite this incredible progress for the queer community, Milk’s political career ended tragically early. After just 11 months in office, Milk and the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, were assassinated by a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Dan White was prejudiced against the freedom and equality establishing itself in California under Milk and Moscone. 

What did Harvey Milk do?

Milk's dedication to representing individuals from all walks of life contributed to his success on the board. As well as his progressive goals centred around LGBTQ+ equality, Milk created day care centres for working mothers, repurposed military sites into affordable housing, and revised tax laws to draw businesses to abandoned buildings.

Harvey Milk strongly supported the idea of safe and thriving neighbourhoods, urging the mayor's office to enhance library services and community policing. He also voiced his concerns on matters affecting LGBTQ+ individuals, women, ethnic minorities and other marginalised communities at both state and national levels.

One of these matters called Proposition 6, aimed to mandate the firing of all gay teachers in Californian public schools. Thanks to efforts from Milk and other opponents, the proposition was defeated at a time when other political attacks against the queer community were being successfully waged around the US. During Milk’s ferocious campaigning against Proposition 6, attendance at gay pride marches skyrocketed around America in San Francisco and L.A.

How is Harvey Milk remembered today?

Harvey Milk’s assassination put a spotlight on queer discrimination in America and he quickly became the most well-known LGBT+ politician in the country. Anne Kronenberg, who was in charge of Harvey Milk's political campaign, wrote after his passing: 

"What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head - then he set about to create it for real, for all of us."

Harvey Milk Plaque covering his ashes outside of 575 Castro Street, inscription reads: Harvey Milk made history as the first openly-gay elected official in California, and one of the first in the nation, when he won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 1977. His camera store and campaign headquarters at 575 Castro Street and his apartment upstairs were centers of community activism for a wide range of human rights, environmental, labor and neighborhood issues. Harvey Milk

Today, Harvey Milk’s legacy is remembered every year on his birthday, May 22nd; Harvey Milk Day is considered one of the most important dates in the American LGBTQ+ calendar. In 2008, a film was made about his life called Milk , directed by screenwriter and gay rights activist, Dustin Lance Black. The film received eight Academy Award nominations and won prizes for best actor in the title role and best screenplay.

In March this year, a U.S. Navy ship named after Harvey Milk completed its first voyage and docked in San Francisco. The USNS Harvey Milk is the first Navy ship named after a gay person.

From everyone at Rainbow & Co, Happy Harvey Milk Day! 

Want to learn about more incredible LGBTQ+ icons and identities from history? You might also like:

Image of Tilly, a smiling woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Tilly Brogan

Tilly is a queer Freelance Copywriter based in Manchester. She balances her time between working  with LGBTQ+ organisations and women’s rights charities - and people watching in various Manchester cafes. She is also a proud lesbian. You can read more of her work here.

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Spin to win Spinner icon