- NAME: Harvey Milk
- OCCUPATION: Activist, Political Leader
- BIRTH DATE: May 22, 1930
- DEATH DATE: November 27, 1978
- EDUCATION: New York State College for Teachers in Albany, Bayshore High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Woodmere, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: San Francisco, California
- Nickname: "Mayor of Castro Street"
- Full Name: Harvey Bernard Milk
- AKA: Harvey Milk
Best Known For
Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay officials in the United States in 1977, when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Tragically, he was killed the following year.
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Milk's ascension had come at an important time for the gay community. While many psychiatrists still considered homosexuality a mental illness at this time, the liberal Moscone had become an early supporter of gay rights and had abolished the city's anti-sodomy law. Moscone had also appointed several gays and lesbians to a number of high-profile positions within San Francisco.
On the other side of Moscone was Supervisor Dan White,
a Vietnam veteran and former police officer and fireman, who was troubled by what he perceived as a breakdown in traditional values and a growing tolerance of homosexuality. Elected to the San Francisco City-County Board in 1977, he frequently clashed with the more liberal Milk on policy issues.
A year after his election, in 1978, White resigned from the board, citing that his salary of $9,600 wasn't enough to support his family. But White was prodded on by his police supporters, and subsequently changed his mind regarding his resignation and asked Moscone to reappoint him. The mayor refused, however, encouraged by Milk and other progressives to fill White's spot with a more liberal board member. For White, who was convinced that men like Moscone and Milk were driving his city "downhill," it was a devastating blow.
On November 27, 1978, White entered City Hall with a loaded .38 revolver. He avoided the metal detectors by entering through a basement window that had been negligently left open for ventilation. His first stop was at the mayor's office, where he and Moscone begun arguing, eventually moving to a private room so that they could not be heard. Once there, Moscone again refused to re-appoint White, and White shot the mayor twice in the chest and twice in the head. White then went down the corridor and shot Milk, twice in the chest, once in the back and twice again in the head. Soon after, he turned himself in at the police station where he used to work.
White's trial was marked by what came to be known as the "Twinkie Defense," as his laywers claimed that the normally stable White had grown slovenly prior to the shootings due to abandoning his usually healthy diet and instead indulging in sugary junk food such as Coke, doughnuts and Twinkies. In a surprising move, a jury convicted White of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder, and White would subsequently serve just six years in prison. In 1985, a year after his release, a distressed White committed suicide.
As a result of White's downgraded conviction, peaceful demonstrations by Castro's gay community outside City Hall turned violent. More than 5,000 policemen responded by entering nightclubs armed with truncheons and assaulting patrons. By the riots' end, 124 people were injured, including 59 policemen. This episode is known in history as "The White Night Riots."
In the years since the killings, Milk's legacy as a leader and pioneer has endured, with numerous books and films made about his life. In 2008, Sean Penn starred as Milk in the acclaimed biopic Milk. Penn ended up winning the 2009 Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of the slain politician.
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