On this day in 1978, Dan White assassinated fellow politicians Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco. For those who have never heard of him, nor seen the 2008 biopic, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, serving as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Born on May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, NY, Milk only moved out to San Francisco in 1972. In his lifetime prior to San Francisco, Milk held various occupations, including: a Navy diving instructor, a teacher, an associate for Broadway musicals, and as a Wall Street investment banker. Gay rights issues however became prominent in the late 60s and early 70s, prompting Milk’s relocation to the centre of the gay rights movement: San Francisco.
As a politician on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Milk was able to pass many gay rights ordinances for the city and was a strong advocate for his community. His initial reception with the gay community in San Francisco was icy, as he was considered a transplant to the gay rights scene, and was not there from the start of the movement. Over time however, the gay community came to embrace him, and affectionately called him “The Mayor of Castro Street” (the street being the centre of the gay neighbourhood in the city). Milk was also able to successfully combat a statewide referendum campaign that would have prevented gay or lesbian teachers from being employed in public schools.
While Milk was certainly instrumental in pushing forward many gay rights issues in San Francisco, he required the support of other city politicians, namely Mayor George Moscone. As mayor, Moscone supported the agenda of Milk and abolished the city’s anti-sodomy laws as well as appointing several gays and lesbians to municipal positions in city government.
On November 27, 1978, a disgruntled politician on the Board of Supervisors, Dan White, shot and murdered both Milk and Moscone at City Hall. Long an opponent of Milk’s political agenda, White also expressed disdain at the increasing tolerance of homosexuality within San Francisco. At White’s trial, a surprise verdict was handed down by the jury, which found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. Serving only six years in prison, in 1985, one year after his release from incarceration, White committed suicide.
To this day, Milk remains a hero to the gay community in San Francisco and worldwide. His life has been documented in the 2008 biopic Milk (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1013753/), starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk himself. The superb portrayal of Harvey Milk led to Sean Penn to win the 2009 Academy Award for best actor.
On the plaque of Harvey Milk’s ashes – “[Harvey Milk’s] camera store and campaign headquarters at 575 Castro Street and his apartment upstairs were centers of community activism for a wide range of human rights, environmental, labour, and neighbourhood issues. Harvey Milk’s hard work and accomplishments on behalf of all San Franciscans earned him widespread respect and support. His life is an inspiration to all people committed to equal opportunity and an end to bigotry.”