Remembering Harvey Milk’s LGBTQ+ Legacy, 40 Years After His Assassination
As the late, great Harvey Milk once said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."
The statement serves as an eerie foreshadowing from the infamous politician who was tragically assassinated 40 years ago this week. While his death was an atrocity of immense proportions, his legacy lives on.
As one of the most important figures of the LGBTQ+ rights, Milk kickstarted a gay rights revolution. When winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in late 1977 - making him the first openly gay elected official in California and one of the first in the country - he said: "It's not my victory, it's yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We've given them hope."
It was a landmark moment, one that was highlighted in this month's midterm US elections when Colorado elected the nation's first openly gay governor.
But while Milk was spreading a message of love, tolerance, and acceptance across the country, and the world, his work angered many and just one year after being elected, he was shot dead at San Francisco City Hall in 1978.
Along with Milk, Mayor George Moscone was also assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer and city supervisor who had clashed with Milk over his advocacy work.
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Aged just 48, Milk was cut down in his prime - but by this point he'd made his mark. As pointed out by NBCNews, he helped to pass America's first gay rights ordinance, which sparked the legal LGBTQ+ rights revolution that has since resulted in a nationwide right to same-sex marriage and an increasing number of LGBTQ+ rights protections in cities and states across the country.
For Milk and those who followed him, the road was not an easy one to travel down. In California at that time, state senator John Briggs was pushing to ban gay and lesbian teachers from the classroom. Milk led the fight against the measure and stood up in the face of adversity.
After debating Briggs around the state, Milk and his followers claimed victory and the initiative was dropped. Three weeks after the win, Milk and Moscone were shockingly assassinated.
Even after his death, the political figure has continued to serve as an inspiration to future generations of gay and trans people to enter politics. Today, the seat Milk held when he was killed is occupied by another openly gay man, Rafael Mandelman.
He said: "As someone who was five years old when he was shot, I am continually grateful not just for Harvey but for the folks of that generation who really did change the world."
In Milk's words: "Hope will never be silent." RIP - gone but not forgotten.
Featured Image Credit: PA