Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

(1930 – 1978) Politician

Harvey Milk was born on May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, Long Island. Milk served in the Navy, inspired by the cause of stopping the Communists in Korea. In the Navy, Milk rose rapidly through the ranks and he eventually became the chief petty officer on the aircraft carrier USS Kittiwake, stationed in the Pacific.

In Manhattan, Milk began working as an actuarial statistician with the Great American Insurance Company, then later with a Wall Street investment firm. While in Manhattan Milk was a strong conservative, but after becoming “more friendly” with the New York theater world, Milk adopted a more “hippie” liberal lifestyle. Dropping out of Wall Street, Milk grew out his hair and burned Bank of America card to protest the Vietnam War. Moving to San Francisco in 1972, Milk opened a camera store on Castro Street.

Angered by the mendacity of the Senate Watergate hearings, Milk made a quixotic run for San Francisco supervisor in 1973. An openly gay candidate, he ruffled the feathers of older, more cautious gays, and his hippie appearance put off many voters. Dropping his hippie image, he focused on his professional demeanor. In 1974 he established the Castro Village Association, an organization of local merchants, and also founded the Castro Street Fair. Before long Milk became known as the Mayor of Castro, holding court in his financially strapped camera store that by this point was a little more than a front for his political activities.

Later Milk was appointed by Mayor George Moscone to the Board of Permit Appeals, which made him the first openly gay city commissioner in the country. In November 1977, Milk won the election as supervisor from San Francisco’s District Five (first openly gay candidate to be elected in any big city in the US). Under his urging, the city council passed a gay rights ordinance, nine to one, with the lone dissenting vote by Supervisor Dan White. Milk had a heavy influence in the fight against Proposition 6, an initiative sponsored by state senator John Briggs that would require the state of California to fire any teacher found guilty of “public homosexual conduct” which the law broadly defined as “advocating, imposing, encouraging or promoting of private or public homosexual activity directed at, or likely to come to the attention of school children and/or/ other (school) employees.” Due in large part to Milk’s tireless campaigning against the measure, it was resoundingly defeated by California voters in November.

Three weeks after the election, on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Supervisor Dan White, a defender of “family values” who had long clashed with Milk over gay issues. A former police officer, White climbed in a back window at City hall, proceeded to the mayor’s office, and after a brief argument, shot the mayor four times. Reloading his weapon, he went to Milk’s office and shot Milk five times. Milk has been often compared to the Martin Luther King of the movement for gay ad lesbian civil rights.

(“Queers in History”, p. 322, “The Gay 100”, p. 93).

Return to Icon History Display

“The Icon History Display was created by a student intern and is not meant to replace a comprehensive search on these historical figures. Content on these biographies was created from the following sources: Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders by Keith Stern (2009); The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present by Paul Russell (1995). To suggest an addition or change contact us at gss@uis.edu or 217-206-8316.”