In California, May 22 is officially recognised as “Harvey Milk Day“. The reasons for this secular honour are well-known, and recorded in several books and notable movies. In 1977, he became the first openly gay man elected to public office as a gay man, but served for only a short term before he was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978. Even in that brief term of office, he made his mark with his contribution to San Francisco’s landmark Gay Rights Ordinance, and to the defeat of the Briggs initiative, which would have required California school districts to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers, but was defeated in the November election shortly before Milk’s assassination. Rather than rehashing the bare facts of Harvey Milk’s life and career, which can be read elsewhere, I want to reflect a little on the symbolism and lessons that these have acquired, three decades later.
Although he is best known for his unique position as a trailblazer for out gay politicians, his work was not limited to queer advocacy, as Kittredge Cherry reminds us at Jesus in Love:
Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.