Four on Four: Jorge Valencia on Harvey Milk

11.5.2006

By Out.com Editors

We asked four of this year's 2006 Out 100 honorees to tell us which late, great member of the LGBT community influenced their lives the most.

I was 14 years old when Harvey Milk was elected to San Francisco's board of supervisors. Because I grew up in a somewhat sheltered and religious environment in Texas, I had no idea the impact that this one man's election would have on the shaping of our political environment. Milk paved the way for the election of close to 300 openly LGBT individuals by the early 2000s.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official of any large city in the United States. But the campaign was no easy task for Milk, who prior to his 1977 election lost three bids for elected office; he ran once for California assemblyman and a total of three times for the board seat he finally won. His election was a political milestone at a time when, for many, to be gay was to feel destined to live a life steeped in fear, shame, and lies.

Milk's determination became my inspiration when I accepted a political post in the Clinton administration'where I served from 1993 to 1996'and chose to live my life as an openly gay man. That choice and the path of many LGBT individuals was largely influenced by Milk, whose political life came to an abrupt end in November 1978, when he was murdered (along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone) by a former board member.

I will always have a special place in my heart for this man who worked so hard for the LGBT community. For that reason, I was particularly moved when Christopher Street West gave me the Harvey Milk Award in 2004. In helping LGBT youths, it is my goal to continue Harvey's fight for equality and to ensure that no one will ever have to live a life of fear, shame, or lies.

Valencia has since 2001 served as executive director of the Trevor Project, which runs the nation's only 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youths. In January 2007 he will assume his new post as executive director at the Point Foundation, which provides scholarships to exceptional LGBT students.

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