5 Ways Harvey Milk Defined the LGBT Equality Movement
The Legacy of Harvey Milk
Harvey, the very spirit of Pride, fought for all of our rights as LGBT people. One of the earliest out elected officials, he helped forge a new path for the marginalized, and for that we celebrate May 22, Harvey's birthday, as Milk Day. Longtime partners and supporters of the Harvey Milk Foundation, Stoli partnered with Paraguayan street artist Oz Montania to produce a commemorative Limited Edition Harvey Milk Tribute Bottle emblazoned with Milk's most memorable words: "Hope will never be silent." In his honor, OUT presents five ways Milk helped define LGBT liberation.
"You have to give them hope."
Making an imprint in history means shaping the future, and Harvey's work continues to touch the lives of LGBT people around the world. The SOMOSGAY Center in Paraguay, which houses Montania's original mural, serves as a public health resource and cultural center for LGBT Paraguayans, acts as a center for grassroots LGBT groups without traditional quarters, and works to promote a "supportive, pluralistic, democratic, equitable and inclusive Paraguayan society in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans live happily with full equality in their homes, schools and workplaces." Even outside of the states, his image, his philosophy, and his bravery still help us do what he always intended: they give people hope.
"On November the 9th, the day after I got elected, it started to rain."
During the buildup to Harvey's election, homophobic activist Anita Bryant blamed gay people for California's drought. After Milk's election, in perfect poetic justice, San Francisco saw a maximum of 1.62 inches of rainfall--and the coming year saw much more precipitate from Harvey. During his single year in office, Milk formed a resilient, organized response to the Briggs Initiative, known as Prop 6 and spearheaded by California state representative John Briggs, who aimed to legalize the termination of gay teachers and teachers who supported gay rights. The initiative failed spectacularly, even in Briggs' conservative home base of Orange County, and many credit the pioneering efforts of one Harvey Milk with its downfall. Watch a clip of Harvey charismatically debating Briggs above.
"It means hope to a nation that has given up…"
Harvey made waves in not only in his legislative work, but in his oratory work as well. LGBT history spans back through the ages, but he truly stands out as a figure of passionate, impactful political resilience in recent memory, in part because of his natural speaking ability. The lasting impression of his work serves as a foothold for LGBT activists, politicians, and artists everywhere, and his spirit lives on through each of our commitments to better the world for LGBT people. Watch his famous "Hope Speech" above, reenacted by Sir Ian McKellen.
"A better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great."
During Harvey's short-lived political career, he helped chapmion an ordinance that banned discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexuality--paving the way to help ensure equal rights for LGBT people. Now, in his own city of San Francisco, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy embodies his philosophies in its K-5 charter education program, and the Harvey Milk Foundation continues Milk's legacy of promoting hope, diversity and authenticity, fights LGBT discrimination in communities around the world, and supports emerging and struggling LGBT movements in places where being openly LGBT is a crime or extremely challenging.
"If a gay person can be elected, it's a green light."
Harvey Milk Foundation President Stuart Milk accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his uncle in 2009 at the White House. President Barack Obama, who also awarded figures like out tennis icon Billie Jean King and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the high court, called Milk and others honored at the ceremony "an agent of change." Receiving the highest honor a bestowed upon a civilian rings true with Harvey's words: being welcomed into new spaces is a green light, and we owe much of what's to come to the work he and his contemporaries accomplished. As more LGBT people enter the political landscape, we can have hope they'll be an integral part of the legal system at local, state, national and international levels.
For this and much, much else, we are forever in your debt, Harvey. Happy Birthday.