Harvey Milk

On this date in 1930, openly gay politician Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, New York. He attended school at New York State College for Teachers in Albany, where he studied math and history. After being discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1955, Harvey spent subsequent years hiding his sexuality from his family and his work. During this time he was employed as a public school teacher, a stock analyst and a production assistant for Broadway musicals. Milk didn’t become active in politics until age 40 when he moved to San Francisco.

There he opened a camera shop on Castro Street in the center of the city’s growing gay community. In 1975 he narrowly lost his second race as a candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1977 he easily won a third bid. During the peak of his political career, Milk supported anti-discrimination bills, established day care centers for working mothers, converted military facilities into low-cost housing and spoke out on state and national issues for LGBT people, women, racial and ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities.

Harvey was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by former city supervisor Dan White, a rabid opponent of gay rights. White was sentenced to only seven years and eight months in prison after being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and not murder. After serving five years, he was released in 1984. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1985.

Milk was very critical of organized religion and did not attend religious services. Randy Shilts wrote in The Mayor of Castro Street (2008) that “Harvey never had any use for organized religion.” In one of his recorded wills, Milk said of his funeral: “I hope there are no religious services. I would hope that there are no services of any kind, but I know some people are into that and you can’t prevent it from happening, but my god, nothing religious.” In 2008 Sean Penn starred in the biographical film “Milk.”

He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was inducted in the California Hall of Fame, with May 22 designated as Harvey Milk Day. (D. 1978)

Freedom From Religion Foundation