Californians commemorate Harvey Milk’s legacy of hope, tolerance, and equality

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

Today is “Harvey Milk Day,” which is officially recognized by the State of California and celebrated worldwide.

From Governor Jerry Brown‘s proclamation:

In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man in the history of the United States to be elected to public office. This milestone achievement gave hope to millions of gays and lesbians across the country that a day would come when they could live their lives openly and honestly without fear of discrimination.

As a Supervisor, Harvey worked with others to secure passage of San Francisco’s landmark Gay Rights Ordinance. This ordinance extended employment protections to gays and lesbians in San Francisco, and it became a model for anti-discrimination legislation throughout California and the nation.

In 1978, Harvey traversed the State to campaign against Proposition 6, which was known as the Briggs Initiative. Had it passed, Proposition 6 would have required California school districts to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers solely because of their sexual orientation. The proposition was defeated in the November 1978 election in part because Harvey successfully appealed to Californians’ basic sense of fairness.

A few weeks after the election, Harvey and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall by a former member of the Board of Supervisors. The tragedy and its aftermath helped further propel the burgeoning gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Harvey’s life was cut short far too soon, but his legacy of hope, tolerance, and equality lives on.

Today would have been Milk’s 81st birthday.

Update: Gay Politics reports that Milk’s victory in 1977 was preceded by the election of the following openly gay and lesbian candidates: 1st – Kathy Kozachenko (Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council); 2nd – Elaine Noble (Massachusetts House of Representatives); 3rd – Jim Yeadon (Madison, Wis., City Council); and 4th – Allan Spear (Minnesota State Senate).

This Story Filed Under