“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
Those are the words of Harvey Milk, who made an audio tape on November 18, 1977 in the event of his assassination. Today, November 27, 2012, marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, a LGBT activist and former San Francisco City Supervisor who moved mountains for the LGBT community. The first out gay supervisor to hold public office, Milk worked around the clock to ensure LGBT equality and fight anti-gay efforts.
Unfortunately, his advocacy work ended way too early. Dan White, San Francisco’s former supervisor, asked Mayor George Moscone for his job back, who denied him. Slipping through one of San Francisco’s City Hall windows in the early morning hours, White shot and killed Moscone in his office. The horrific murder did not end there, White also delivering five fatal gun shots to Milk.
During his 48 years on earth, Milk lived as a gay rights pioneer. He worked hard to eradicate the Briggs Initiative, created by Senator John Briggs to stop gay teachers from teaching in the public school system. Milk’s advocacy paid off, the bill defeated. Milk’s contributions continued, as he generated San Francisco’s “Gay Rights Ordinance” in 1978, protecting LGBT individuals from getting fired based on their sexual orientation. Several states followed suit, gay equality bills cropping up around the country.
Milk was also responsible for organizing a boycott against Coors beer in 1973, the company refusing to hire gay truck drivers and enacting the Pooper Scooper law in 1978, requiring San Francisco residents to clean up after their dogs.
THE WHITE NIGHT
Many people think White did not receive enough punishment for his assassination of Milk and Moscone, sentenced to eight years of jail time on May 21, 1979. Enraged, San Francisco residents fought back against the light sentence by participating in a protest march from the city of Castro to San Francisco’s City Hall. When riots started, police officers tried to “keep the peace.” Penned as the “White Night,” the evening left an indelible stamp on LGBT history, in remembrance of Milk, the gay community’s fallen hero.
Anne Kronenberg, Milk’s former City Hall assistant and campaign manager, shared her memories of the “White Night,” as stated on SantaCruzSentinel.com.
“Thousands of people came together at Castro Street on that sad day and marched to City Hall. The only thing you heard was the sound of people crying,” said Kronenberg.
San Francisco is honoring Milk’s memory today with a 4:30 p.m. ceremony on the City Hall stairs. Later, individuals can take part in a candlelight march to Milk’s former “Castro Camera” store.
According to Kronenberg, today’s celebration is done in “reverse,” of the “White Night” march, in recognition of the incredible advances in LGBT rights over the last 34 years.
THE SPIRIT OF MILK LIVES ON
From the repeal of DOMA and the DADT to nine states legalizing same-sex marriage and LGBT parents starting their own families, much LGBT progress has been made. Would these achievements have happened without Harvey Milk?
It is hard to say, but Milk’s spirit endures. On May 22, 2012, now delineated as Harvey Milk Day, San Diego’s Council gave Milk his own road. The former Blaine Street is now known as Harvey MiIk Street. President Barack Obama, who has done more for LGBT rights than any other president, bestowed the Freedom Medal on Milk on August 12, 2009 for his work as an LGBT activist.
Today, we remember a great man, one ahead of his time who ultimately gave his life for the added freedoms that LGBT individuals now have.
While there is still more work to do, we need to retain that spirit of hope, something that motivated Milk until his tragic end. I leave you with some lasting words of wisdom from Harvey Milk.
““I ask for the movement to continue because it’s not about personal gain, it’s not about ego, not about power…it’s about the “us’s” out there. Not only gays, but the Blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s….Without hope, the us’s give up- I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. So you, and you, and you…You gotta give em’ hope…you gotta give em’ hope.”