Watch a Pride parade today, and you’ll likely see a politician marching. Or several.
But, in 1978, it was far less common, let alone for a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors to march in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Harvey Milk had been elected to the post in 1977, after a chilly reception in local politics and three election losses. But the “Mayor of Castro Street” had organized his neighborhood, a refuge for the city’s surging gay and lesbian population.
His swearing-in made national headlines. He was the first non-incumbent openly gay man elected to public office, elected to a diverse board that also included a single mother, a Chinese-American man and an African-American woman.
His message was pragmatic: compromise and community, and he encouraged others to come out.
“Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all,” Milk said. “And once you do, you will feel so much better.”
This made pride parades central to his message. Because this is where we saw the light of day, and the day saw us. But no one could have predicted the 1978 Pride celebrations would be his last. Milk and Mayor George Moscone would be assassinated by Milk’s rival, Dan White, that November.
In office for only 11 months, Milk worked on a variety of causes. He successfully pushed the city to pass a strong anti-discrimination ordinance, and he helped lead defeat of the Briggs Initiative, which demonized gays and lesbians in public education. He fiercely advocated for LGBTQ youth.
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential,” Milk declared.