“I’m tired of their myths. I’m tired of their distortions. I’m speaking out about it. Gay brothers and sisters, what are you going to do about it?”
~ Slain former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in a speech circa 1978
As LGBT Californians and others around the globe mark what would have been Harvey Milk’s 88th birthday Tuesday, May 22, the quotes and legacy of the advocacy work of the assassinated San Francisco political leader and gay icon, perhaps had a greater sense of urgency forty years after his death as the LGBT community comes under assault by the Trump administration and the Evangelical Christian political right.
In the 1970’s, Milk and his allies and other leaders of the nascent gay rights movement challenged homophobic attitudes and campaigns that threatened to erase all of the protections which then existed for LGBT people in cities and states across the country, including California. Most notably, Milk is identified with helping defeat Proposition Six, known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have mandated the termination of employment for gay and lesbian schoolteachers and their supporters in California’s public schools.
The most important aspect, according to historians as well as modern day LGBT activists and political leaders aligned with his philosophy, was that Milk encouraged LGBT people to “come out” and be visible in society, which he believed would lead to achieving social equality.
Harvey Milk’s contributions to that cause for LGBT equality, as well as for all people, has been recognized in a number of ways, including the issuance of a stamp with his picture on it, the posthumous awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by then-U. S. President Barack Obama. In his memory, Harvey Milk Day was officially established as a holiday also in 2009 when Arnold Schwarzenegger, then-governor of California, signed it into law.
On Tuesday, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement commemorating Harvey Milk Day;
—“On Harvey Milk Day, Americans in San Francisco, throughout California and across the country celebrate the life and legacy of a man who believed in the transformative power of hope. Harvey Milk dared to live proudly and, in doing so, inspired countless LGBTQ Americans to ‘burst down those closet doors’ and find their power, taking their rightful place as full participants in our democracy.
“Harvey’s tireless leadership, impassioned advocacy and clarion voice for justice and equality remind us all that we must never settle for mere tolerance, but that all Americans, regardless of who they are or whom they love, are deserving of acceptance and respect. As Republicans in Congress, the White House and Statehouses across the country push their hateful, discriminatory agenda, we remain inspired by the remarkable progress that we have made in the fight for LGBTQ equality – progress achieved in large part by the bold vision and enduring hope of Harvey Milk.
“While Harvey is remembered for being a pioneer in the fight for LGBTQ rights, his passion and determination built a stronger, more inclusive and just nation for all Americans. This Harvey Milk Day, we commit ourselves to continue Harvey’s relentless work to guarantee the fundamental rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, creed or background. In doing so, we honor Harvey’s legacy and ensure it continues to carry us forward as we work to deliver on the ideals of equality that are our heritage and the hope of our nation.”