May 22 – Harvey Milk Day

Posted on May 22, 2016

 In 2009, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill creating a state day of recognition for Harvey Milk, a politician who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in a major city.

Harvey Milk, who was born on this date in 1930, became a city supervisor of San Francisco in 1977. He was responsible for passing a gay rights law in the city. That's the main reason that he is a hero...

But unfortunately, there is another reason we remember Milk so well here in California: he became a martyr.

Another city supervisor, a fellow named Dan White, resigned his seat because he thought the pay was too low. A few days later, he asked that his resignation be withdrawn, but the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, was instead prepared to name a new supervisor who would reflect the diversity of the city and the more progressive ideas of the rest of the board. White had spent most of his time clashing with Milk, especially, and other board members on various issues.

On November 27, 1978, Dan White deliberately shot Mayor Moscone several times, causing the mayor to fall to the floor; White shot him in the head twice more. Then he reloaded his gun and went in search of Milk; he shot Milk five times, including twice in the head at close range.

If you can believe it, White wasn't convicted of murder, even though he admitted that he was guilty of assassinating two government officials! Instead, he was convicted of only manslaughter, and he was only sentenced to seven years in prison, of which he only served two. (White committed suicide not long after he was released from prison.)

Back to Milk: even though he was only a city supervisor less than 11 months before he was assassinated, he is still seen as an icon in San Francisco, a visionary for LGBT rights, and a martyr in the gay community.

In 2009 President Obama awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay rights movement. Milk's nephew Stuart accepted for his uncle and later founded the Harvey Milk Foundation. Governor Schwarzenegger, in addition to declaring today Harvey Milk Day, inducted Milk in the California Hall of Fame.

  • Here are some materials for kids to learn about Harvey Milk and issues relating to gay rights.

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