Harvey "Glimpy Milch" Milk, born May 22, 1930, was the first openly gay man to hold a major political position. He began his political career in the 1970s, at a time when psychologists still considered homosexuality a mental disorder. In 1977, he became a member of San Francisco's board of supervisors.
Milk loved publicity and believed that the "invisibility" of gays contributed to the negative social stigmas of the time. Many glbt people of the late 70s lived in the closet, so the election of an openly gay man was a major milestone in the gay political world and the personal lives of gay individuals. Milk said, "You gotta give them hope." His visibility gave many glbt people the hope they needed. Milk even inspired Oliver Sipple
, the man that saved late President Gerald Ford from a second assassination attempt.
For Milk, it was important that he be seen as a person, not just a gay man in politics. After sponsoring a dog mess bill that forced owners to clean up after their pets on the sidewalks, Milk said, "All over the country, they're reading about me, and the story doesn't center on me being gay. It's just about a gay person who is doing his job."
Prior to his political career, Milk served in the Korean War and upon his return became an investment banker on Wall Street. He moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, bored by his career and the gay Greenwich Village scene.
Despite being told that he would never successfully gain a political office as an openly gay man, Milk garnered the support of San Francisco's previously quiet gay population. Many outed themselves to show support for Milk. And after three failed attempts at the city supervisor seat, on his forth try he became the first openly gay office holder. Milk's famous speech opening line was "My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you."
Amid death threats, Milk said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
On Nov. 27, 1978, Harvey Milk was shot twice in the head by conservative and disgruntled supervisor Daniel White. Mayor George Moscone was also killed. White confessed to his crime, but was only given five years in prison plus parole. His lawyers argued that junk food caused his depression. That argument, dubbed the Twinkie defense, was later banned.
Milk's death made him a martyr. His supervisor seat was given to openly-gay politician Harry Britt. A year after Milk's death 100,000 people demonstrated for gay rights in Washington D.C. chanting "Harvey Milk Lives." He was also the inspiration for Cleve Jones' AIDS quilt and his bravery the catalyst for the modern day gay rights movement. Today, many gay social institutions are named after Harvey Milk, including The Harvey Milk School
in New York City.