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Happy birthday, Harvey Milk!

The gay activist and pioneering politician would have turned 84 today. Read More

By / May 22, 2014

Harvey Milk, the gay activist and pioneering politician who was killed just 11 months into his term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, would have turned 84 today. To honor his legacy, the United States Postal Service has released a 49 cent “Forever” stamp designed by Antonia Alcalá (you can buy it here).

Milk was born in Woodmere, New York, to a family of Lithuanian Jewish descent. (His grandfather Morris Milk helped found the first synagogue in their neighborhood.) He worked in finance in New York City for many years, and though he had romantic relationships and was at ease with his sexuality, he wasn’t publicly out or active in the gay community until he moved to San Francisco in his early 40s.

In the Castro, the gay neighborhood of the city, he opened a camera store with his partner Scott Smith and became a fixture in the local community—endearing himself to many, antagonizing others (he was seen as a political upstart), and ultimately becoming known as the unofficial “Mayor of Castro Street.” He was a naturally gifted organizer and politician, forming alliances and brokering deals with teamsters, firefighters, construction workers, and small business owners.

In 1978, Milk made history as the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, but he was tragically murdered on November 27 by political rival Dan White (Mayor George Moscone was also killed). His legacy, however, lives on: in film, opera, education, and through the work of the Harvey Milk Foundation.

Milk was a vociferous advocate of being publicly gay at a time when doing so often meant being socially ostracized. His chutzpah gave others the courage to come out, which in turn helped to break down the stigma associated with homosexuality. In 1978, he said:

“I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects … I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”

Amen!

Celebrate Milk’s life by watching the terrific Oscar-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk:

Image: United States Postal Service