The twelfth episode of Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths focuses on Harvey Milk, a District 5 San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, who was the first openly gay individual to be elected into California public office.
Before becoming District 5 Supervisor in 1978, Milk was a diving officer onboard a US Navy submarine rescue ship during the Korean War. After being honorably discharged, he tried out several different career paths including high school teacher, insurance actuary, researcher for Wall Street firm Bache & Company and lastly business owner on Castro Street in San Francisco.
Angered by the Watergate scandal, in 1973 Harvey Milk decided to enter the political arena, hoping to bring about positive change. "I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up,” Milk said when running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
After his third campaign, Milk was finally elected. He only held office for eleven months, but as a Supervisor, he was responsible for passing a number of gay rights-related city ordinances. Unfortunately, his political career was cut short when he and the Mayor of the City were assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White, a politician known for his anti-gay views.
In the wake of his death, Harvey Milk became a San Francisco icon and martyr for the gay community. He is remembered for his major political accomplishments before and during office:
“Mayor of Castro Street”
Self-stylized the “Mayor of Castro Street,” Harvey Milk was an active member of the Castro Street community. Milk rallied gay bars on Castro Street to participate in a strike against beer distributors who refused to sign a union contract. In return, Milk asked union organizers to hire more gay drivers.
Castro Village Association
He also helped form the Castro Village Association in response to the Eureka Valley Merchants Association’s attempt to prevent two gay businessmen from opening an antique shop.
Castro Street Fair
A staunch believer that gay community members should patronize gay businesses, Milk organized the Castro Street Fair in 1974 to attract more customers. During that first year, 5,000 people came to street festival. In 1977, 70,000 people came.
Voter Registration Drive & Newspaper Columnist
He ran a voter registration drive which registered 2,000 voters and was a columnist for the Bay Area Reporter.
Gay Rights Law
Milk successfully pushed to get a law passed that would prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. He also pushed the city to hire more gay/lesbian police officers.
State Senate Proposition 6
In 1978, California State Senator John Briggs wrote a bill known as Proposition 6 or the Briggs Initiative to ban gay/lesbian teachers from teaching in California public schools and to fire anyone who supported gay rights. Milk campaigned against it and delivered his famous “Hope Speech” at the Gay Freedom Day Parade. 250,000-375,000 people came from all over the country and caught national attention. The proposition lost by more than a million votes.
In addition to gay rights, Harvey Milk a proponent of developing a civilian board to oversee the police, free public transportation, larger and less expensive child care facilities and the “pooper scooper law” which required pet owners to clean up after their dogs. According to a citywide poll, the latter was the number one problem. To publicize his campaign, Milk even “accidentally” stepped in it in front of cameras as he was walking with press through Duboce Park.
If you haven’t yet listened to our episode on Harvey Milk from Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series, check it out now on your favorite podcast directory or on www.parcast.com.
Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths examines the lives and tragic deaths of people who changed history and influenced pop culture.