Today marks the 30th year since San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated - on November the 27th, 1978.
Harvey Milk was an outspoken advocate for lesbian and gay equality. In 1977, Milk campaigned and won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the city's first openly gay elected official and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country. During his brief tenure, he emphasized the importance of gay visibility, encouraging those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to live their lives openly and honestly in order to change public perceptions.
Milk giving his "Hope Speech" at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day. Image credit: Crawford Barton, San Francisco GLBT Historical Society
Unfortunately, Milk's life came to an abrupt and tragic end. Eleven months into his position, Milk was murdered alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a troubled colleague named Dan White.
While White's motivation may have been complex, the effects of his actions are clear. Milk's assassination rallied gays and lesbians throughout the city and his significance within the community was magnified after his death. Milk left behind a recorded message meant to be played in case of his assassination, which he always knew was a risk. On the recording he offered suggestions to supporters and potential successors. He also made one of his most famous remarks: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
When his murderer, Dan White, was tried and received a lighter sentence than most felt he deserved, riots broke out across the city in what would be called the "White Night riots."
Harvey Milk had the courage to be outspoken in his devotion to equal rights for all people, regardless of their orientation, gender identity, age or race. His life inspired a number of creative and artistic works, including the 1982 Randy Shilts biography The Mayor of Castro Street, the 1983 Emily Mann play Execution of Justice and the 1984 Academy Award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein and narrated by Harvey Fierstein.
Yesterday, the much-anticipated film Milk, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, was released across the country. Thirty years after the murders, Gus Van Sant has directed a star-studded cast in a feature film retelling of the story. The film has the potential to introduce a tremendously important piece of LGBT history to mainstream audiences.
In recent weeks, a bust of Milk was unveiled at San Francisco's City Hall. It sits at the top of the rotunda's grand staircase, just yards away from where Milk was shot and killed. On that monument reads an inscription, a quote from a speech Milk made in 1978:
I ask for the movement to continue because my election gave young people out there hope. You gotta give ‘em hope.
That's just what Harvey Milk's life and the retelling of his story offers us: Hope.
Take a moment today to be thankful for people like Harvey Milk who have been trailblazers within the LGBT community and beyond and take time this weekend to see a film 30 years in the making that celebrates his life and his impact.
To see all of our glaadBLOG posts on Harvey Milk and Milk, click here.
To see a timeline of Harvey Milk's life, click here.
To see GLAAD's Milk resource kit, click here.