Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930-November 27, 1978)external image Harvey_Milk_web.jpg


"All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about."


Biography

Born on May 22, 1930, Harvey Milk would become known as the first openly gay San Francisco city official. Milk grew up in Woodmere, New York. He was aware of his sexuality from an early age, although was not “out” until later in life. Milk earned a teaching degree from New York State College for Teachers in Albany. Shortly after receiving an education, he opted to join the United States Navy, where he achieved a rank of junior lieutenant. In 1955, he was discharged on honorable mentions. This “honorable” discharge appears to be due to the Don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) policy on homosexuals.

Milk moved to Castro Street, the largest and first gay neighborhood in the United States, with his partner Scott Smith. Together they opened a camera shop and integrated themselves into the community. His new-found interest in politics and passionate conversational skills secured him the title “Mayor of Castro Street”. In his new home, he assisted in many equal rights movements for LGBT citizens. Eventually, he founded the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club. This activism caused these citizens to look up to him as a leader in the community.[1]

Harvey Milk was not just an activist homosexual with a camera store. He became astute to political activities and processes. In San Francisco, specifically Castro Street, Milk greatly contributed to the 1970s gay movement. Through his campaigns and networking within communities, he implemented identity-building, gay rights, and sexually focused commercial sector. These three aspects of the movement proved to be synergistic.

In 1977, after many failed attempts, Milk was elected onto San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors as the first openly homosexual man in San Francisco political history. He attributed his elected to his organization, the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club. During his short time in office, he was an advocate of urban neighborhoods and grassroots activism. He is most well-known as a symbol for the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Milk’s greatest platform was his insistence that the government take responsibility and be accountable for their individuals. His influence caused the city to hire more homosexual police officers. During this time, California was trying to fire openly homosexual educators in state school systems. Milk used his power to fight this movement. Milk did not stop with the LGBT community, but reached out and spoke for various minorities and oppressed people.

As a candidate, and on the Board of Supervisors, Milk accomplished various goals. He expanded gay identity organizations. He addressed rent control, public transportation, and treatment of the elderly. He regulated public park laws, school systems, and the police forces.

On November 27, 1978, with a loaded gun, Dan White, a former San Francisco supervisor entered City Hall through a window. White had recently resigned in protest over the veto of The Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools. Milk was instrumental in fighting this proposition. The man killed Mayor George Moscone. He then went in search of Milk, shooting him in the arm, chest, and twice in the head. These murders caused riots to erupt in the city, causing much property damage and several injuries.[2]

In honor of the late Milk and his amazing accomplishments in activism and politics, the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club was renamed the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Today, Milk continues to be an inspirational figure for equal rights, and a martyr for the gay community. The only openly gay politician elected into high office is an exemplary moral leader. Not only did he pass countless laws dealing with homosexuals, but he changed the world we live in. His legacy tells of a man who worked to bring acceptance of all individuals in this world. “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”[3]



Challenge
Harvey Milk’s practice of politics entails becoming the voice of a minority people. Milk transformed from the outsider of a conservative New York family to a radical member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. Before the 1973 election, Milk’s frustration with the government dangerously piled up inside. He was fed up with oppression against the LGBT community, and the lack of deserved equal rights for these people. Three aspects influenced him to run: First, the Watergate Scandal and resignation of Richard Nixon revealed government dishonesty. Two, special taxes were challenging small business owners, such as himself. Three, a teacher requested to borrow a projector from his camera shop because the district had no funds available for the local schools.[4] Milk’s anger towards injustices and a corrupt government influenced him to get involved in politics. He desperately wanted to be the representative for all people, in order to open dialogue between the lawmakers and the public. In reference to this desire, Milk once stated, "It takes no compromise to give people their rights, it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.[5]

Though Milk only officially served eleven months on the board, he was speaking out for minorities from the moment he moved to Castro Street. What made him such an amazing, inspirational leader was his insistence on equal rights not only for the gay community, but for human beings in general..

Within his practice of politics, the most difficult activity to overcome was lobbying against the Briggs Initiative. Also known as Proposition 6, the proposal would have restricted open homosexuals from teaching in California. A similar threat was placed against police officers. Milk saw the Briggs Proposition as a direct attack on human rights. He could not understand how a mere sexual orientation would jeopardize a secured career. He famously spoke about the fact that he was raised by heterosexual parents, educated by heterosexual teachers, and existed in a heterosexual community for his life. Yet, he was a homosexual and there was nothing wrong about that. He proposed that if all people were to become what their educators were, a lot more nuns would be running around. All members of the Board agreed with him, and they successfully squashed the proposition. All were in accordance, except for Dan White. As fate would later have it, Milk’s challenges to the status quo would cost him his life. Institutionally, Milk was in the midst of an era where gay rights were constantly repealed across the country. Not only were they being repealed, but the hate crimes, public discrimination, and lack of deserved rights made life for the LGBT community more difficult than necessary.

The cultural ill of the 1970s was intolerance towards those who are different. Milk was not only an open homosexual in the political spotlight, but he was fighting for the minorities of the neighborhood. He was fighting for sentiments and ideas that were not held by the majority. This bravery to stand before a community and be the voice for those who deserve equal rights is a major challenge to overcome. Harvey Milk’s practice supported and assisted all minorities, not just homosexuals. He fought for the “little people”: the immigrants, the elderly, and the handicapped."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.”[6]



Virtue
Harvey Milk is an exemplary leader due to his unwavering perseverance. Perseverance is defined as “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”.[7] Milk was a model for perseverance throughout his life and political career. He ran for office four times, but only won once. Yet, he did not give up on his determination to secure a seat on the Board of Supervisors. He used this same perseverance to lobby against the Briggs Initiative, to implement laws and practices for the common good of all humankind, and to instill hope in minorities of every sort that they can make a difference and they are heard.



Choiceworthy Good
Harvey Milk applied the choiceworthy good of tolerance in his politics. The practice of politics seeks the common good, which allows the flourishing of individual members of society. Milk’s tolerance allowed each and every member of the community to flourish, including those who are different. He realized that all people deserve to be respected, despite their sexual orientation, color of skin, religious beliefs, etc.As stated previously, the 1970s were a time of intolerance to those who appeared or acted differently than the status quo. Milk realized that the common good is that all people receive the equal human rights. Despite the intolerance of his fellow nation, he spoke out for the deserved rights for every community. He struggled through this motion due to the conservative political system he was attempting to overcome.

Another choiceworthy good was his unwavering acceptance, or insistence on embracing who you were. Outside of politics, Harvey Milk achieved this common good by “coming out of the closet” at an early age and being honest with his loved ones about who he was. Milk once urged, “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”[8] Milk had to overcome the judgments of a community that refused to accept differences. He acknowledged that embracing his true identity was a good despite the intolerance of the seventies and the preconceived social practice of heterosexuality.



Cultural Ill
The cultural ill of the 1970s was intolerance towards those who are different. The United States was no stranger to racism. People could be oppressed due to the color of their skin, religion, cultural differences, or sexual orientation. “Homophobia”, the hatred or fear of homosexuals, became a common American ideology during this time period. The majority of the world saw members of the LGBT community as a minority. This bigotry caused discrimination, racism, and hate crimes throughout the years. Furthermore, there were many homosexuals from various ethnic backgrounds. This labeled them as a double minority, more susceptible to these attacks.[9]

Violence against the LGBT community was two-fold. First, there was the threat of corporal punishment for homosexual acts. Second, there was the intimidation tactics from racist individuals. These tactics ranged from verbal confrontation, assault, and could escalate as far as lynching, or worse.

In order to understand the mindset of a homophobic United States, we must examine history. Male homosexuality, also known as sodomy, has been punishable since the early years. In medieval times, convicted homosexuals would be put to death. The nineteenth century through the early twentieth century charged gays with fines or jail time. Even today, there are eighty countries that still consider homosexuality illegal.
Ironically, homosexual behavior had been deemed legal since the 1940s.[10] This passing of legislation did not curtail the violent hate crimes. From 1970 to 1979, various tragic hate crimes against the LGBT community have been recorded. In addition to Milk’s murder, other hate crimes occurred in the state of California.[11]

In March 1970, Howard Efland checked into a Dover Hotel. Efland was a male nurse, a profession practically unheard of during this era, and an open homosexual. In order to protect himself from the backlash of racism, he entered the hotel under a pseudonym. The Los Angeles Police Department discovered his whereabouts and attempted to arrest him. When Efland resisted, the police officers beat him to death. Due to his resistance, the coroner’s inquest declared the murder as “excusable homicide”.[12]
Robert Hillsborough was a gardener from the city of San Francisco. On June 21, 1977, he went to a disco with a friend and stopped by a local restaurant around midnight. The two were followed by four young men, who attacked them at their parked car. Hillsborough was beaten to death and stabbed fifteen times. The murderer was nineteen year-old John Cordova. Cordova fled the scene, yelling “faggot”. He was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.[13]

These hate crimes exemplify the cultural ill of intolerance. The murderers involved in the deaths of innocent citizens could not understand those different from themselves and refused to tolerate their presences. These actions made the world a difficult and fearful place to live in for a homosexual. Furthermore, due to the intolerance of the government, criminal charges were often light for the murderers.


Milk was not only an open homosexual in the political spotlight, but he was fighting for the minorities of the neighborhood. He was fighting for sentiments and ideas that were not held by the majority. This bravery to stand before an intolerant community and be the voice for those who deserve equal rights is a major challenge to overcome. Harvey Milk’s practice supported and assisted all minorities, not just homosexuals. He fought for the “little people”: the immigrants, the elderly, and the handicapped."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.”[14]

Harvey Milk was a twentieth-century trailblazer. As the first homosexual elected as a United States politician, he used his position to address the American gay community and their deserved rights. His practices in the political sphere molded him into a role model for not only the gays, but for all oppressed people. His perseverance to enter office and to lobby those bills that violated human rights made him an exemplary political figure in history. Finally, his role as a human rights activist instilled many choiceworthy internal goods in his being, such as tolerance and acceptance.




Works Cited
1. Armstrong, Elizabeth A. "Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.


2. D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: Second Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1983. Print.


3. Faderman, Lillian., & Timmos, Stuart. "Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians." New York: Basic Books, 2006. Print


4. Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin's, 1982. Print.


5. "Gay History Wiki." Robert Hillsborough -. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <
http://gayhistory.wikidot.com/robert-hillsborough>


6. "Harvey Milk Quotes." Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews).
N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>


7. "History of Violence against LGBT People in the United States." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_violence_against_LGBT_people_in_the_United_States>


8. Merriam-Webster
. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/>.


9. "Racism in the LGBT Community." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_the_LGBT_community#Antisemitism>


10. "Violence against LGBT People." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_against_LGBT_people#Criminal_assault>
  1. ^





    Shilts, Randy.The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin's, 1982. Print.
  2. ^





    Armstrong, Elizabeth A. "Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994."Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.
  3. ^





    "Harvey Milk Quotes." Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>
  4. ^





    D’Emilio, John.
    Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: Second Edition.//Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1983. Print.
  5. ^ Harvey Milk Quotes." Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>
  6. ^





    Harvey Milk Quotes." Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews). N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>
  7. ^





    Merriam-Webster
    . Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/>.
  8. ^





    "Harvey Milk Quotes."
    Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews).// N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>
  9. ^
    "Racism in the LGBT Community." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_the_LGBT_community#Antisemitism>
  10. ^
    "History of Violence against LGBT People in the United States." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_violence_against_LGBT_people_in_the_United_States>
  11. ^ Type the content of your reference here.
  12. ^ //





    Faderman, Lillian., & Timmos, Stuart. "Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, And Lipstick Lesbians." New York: Basic Books, 2006. Print. 161
  13. ^
    "Gay History Wiki." Robert Hillsborough -. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://gayhistory.wikidot.com/robert-hillsborough>
  14. ^





    "Harvey Milk Quotes." Harvey Milk Quotes (Author of The Harvey Milk Interviews).// N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3450036.Harvey_Milk>