Meet maudern mavericks, a series that highlights the people who have pioneered sex education and reproductive and civil rights. Meet the pioneering Harvey Milk, a prominent and political voice of homosexuality in America.
May 22, 1930, Woodmere, NY
First openly gay elected official in California who served in San Francisco. His position while being openly gay was wildly controversial, however, opened the conversation for future leaders who were out.
Milk began his career in the military in the US Navy during the Korean War aboard a submarine ship. After being discharged, he returned to his native New York where he began working as a high school teacher. It was then he started an open romantic relationship with Joe Campbell after meeting him at a popular gay beach in queens.
He moved around the country pursuing different careers and different lovers—working as an actuarial statistician in insurance and landing on Wall Street as a researcher. His technical skills led him to a job on a presidential campaign for Barry Goldwater.
He moved to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood with his boyfriend a younger Jack McKinley and started working at an investment bank. He was fired for his radical long hair and opened a camera store. But his true interests lay in the political scene. His interest had peeked through early exposure to discrimination in New York and further run-ins with cultural negativity towards the gay community. He was polarizing to the community with his fiery speeches and tough views but received a fair amount of attention.
In the early-mid 70s, Milk began to become a leader in the Castro—making coalitions with gay businesses. He organized the Castro Street Fair which brought more than 5000 people together to support the community. He was appointed by the mayor to the Board of Permit Appeals in 1976 and was the first openly gay man on the state assembly. It was a short-lived run but he continued to have a voice in the community, founding the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club. In 1977 he ran and won a position as Supervisor, his swearing-in made national news, reflecting a change in the acceptance of ‘nongays’ towards the gay community.
Milk was assassinated by a fellow board member at the age of 48 on November 27, 1978. His political legacy continues and the attention he directed to the gay community both in San Francisco and across the country continues.
More on Milk
Milk, 2008; biographical film starring Sean Penn
The Times of Harvey Milk, 1984; Criterion Collection Documentary
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts, Biography
Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman, From the Jewish Lives Series