Happy (Belated) Birthday To San Francisco’s Own Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk, a name that still rings through the gayly painted streets of San Francisco’s iconic Castro district. As an American politician who became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, Milk went on to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; subsequently changing the face of LGBT rights in the Bay Area for good.

Today my uncle would have been 86 years old, however, he gave us his life 32 years ago knowing that the first of any civil rights movement, who so clearly and loudly proclaim their right to equality, most often meets a violent and sudden end.

I am frequently asked if I am deeply saddened that my uncle Harvey did not get to see all those elected officials who would come to stand on his shoulders, or all the places where the light of equality burns brighter than the darkness of antiquated prejudice, and I have long replied that he did see those open and proud candidates running for office and winning, and he did see those cities and states and nations that would etch equality into both their laws and their societal values, for he could not have given his life without seeing and visualizing that dream, for he would leave us with a compass of hope, hope born of bullets, not smashing into his brain, but smashing our masks and our fear of authenticity.

86 years ago Harvey came into this world with all the promise and potential that my grandparents Minnie and Bill could have imagined, and he also came into a world that soon would be rocked by a global war driven at its very core by fear, division, and separation.  My uncle was profoundly affected by the capacity of communities and nations to turn on each other when the narrative of lies and the myths of prejudice were fed around the globe during WWII. He also was able to see at a young age, visible through his college writing, that we could learn through collaboration, understanding and inclusiveness that we are not weakened by our differences, in fact, that our potential is only reached when the full diversity of all those that make up our communities is celebrated. And today it is this very celebration of our diversity that Harvey had dreamed, the celebration of all of us, not in spite of our difference, but because of our differences.

Today is the celebration not of a people or community or nation being better than another, but a celebration of the knowledge that we are so much less when we do not embrace, without qualification, all members of our unique and varied humanity. 

My uncle’s legacy has many monuments, all those openly LGBT elected officials, all those who live an authentic and open life, all those strong allies like our President in the United States that fight to keep us embraced, the hope givers who help to fulfil our potential of equality.

President Obama said it best, “Harvey gave us hope, All of us, Hope unashamed, Hope unafraid” My uncle was very much with us in spirit as we watched the President and then Speaker Pelosi sign the Matthew Shepard Act and then the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  And we were all standing on his shoulders  just last week when the President, true to his word in staying on the side of  justice, basic dignity, and human rights as he endorsed Marriage Equality, becoming the first sitting US President to make that courageous move.

These are the tangible monuments to Harvey’s legacy that have the impact to effect change, real societal change. Today we are here are voicing the hope of a global community set on the path of inclusion – there is no more fitting tribute to my uncles dream, a dream that remains alive in each of us. Today is a day of recognition and appreciation of our own authenticity and that of others, a day to collaborate and reach out to those who still struggle with either self-acceptance or societal acceptance.

Harvey Milk day is a reminder to put hate and separation in their place, a place of learning of wrongs that have been righted and reminders not to repeat them, a day to create the dream and vision of what is possible, even in the all too many places around the world where it is still so hard to visualize that dream, as it was when my uncle spoke out over 38 years ago in the US.

I and the Milk family and Harvey Milk Foundation thank all of you who are working collaboratively today, in dreaming what my uncle dreamed, for seeing, visualizing and making great efforts to co-create our collective full potential.  We are thankful in the celebration of my uncle’s legacy of hope,  hope that tomorrow will be more inclusive than today and that inclusivism is without exception and without qualification.  As my uncle said, we gotta give ’em hope!

More History on Harvey Milk:

Milk moved from New York City to settle in San Francisco in 1972 amid a migration of gay men to the Castro District. He took advantage of the growing political and economic power of the neighborhood to promote his interests and ran unsuccessfully for political office three times. His theatrical campaigns earned him increasing popularity, and Milk won a seat as a city supervisor in 1977.

Milk served almost 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back. Milk’s election was made possible by and was a key component of a shift in San Francisco politics.

Despite his short career in politics, Milk became an icon in San Francisco and a martyr in the gay community. In 2002, Milk was called “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States”.Anne Kronenberg, his final campaign manager, wrote of him: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

// Visit the GLBT Museum in the Castro to fully live the beauty of Harvey Milk’s life among other key hitters in SF’s LGBT right campaign, 4127 18th St, San Francisco


Written by the Stuart Milk co-founder and chair of the Harvey Milk Foundationmore SF news and events to be had, join in!

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