Harvey Milk & LGBT Rights

Harvey Milk (1930–1978) was an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in California. 

 

In 1977, he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. 

Milk was born and educated in New York State. In 1972, Milk moved to San Francisco’s Castro District, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and one that has become a symbol of the LGBT community. 

Harvey Milk. Photo by Daniel Nicoletta.

While in office, Milk was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for San Francisco. Milk also tackled other issues such as child care, housing, and a civilian police review board. The Harvey Milk Foundation notes:

 

Harvey Milk was a visionary civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

 

Milk’s unprecedented loud and unapologetic proclamation of his authenticity as an openly gay candidate for public office, and his subsequent election gave never before experienced hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people everywhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination.

 

His remarkable career was tragically cut short when he was assassinated nearly a year after taking office. [1]

Harvey Milk filling in for San Francisco Mayor Moscone in 1978.  Photo by Daniel Nicoletta

On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor of San Francisco George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, who was another city supervisor.

 

Milk is seen by many as a martyr in the LGBT community and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. 

Task

Prepare a 4–5-minute presentation that includes a summary of Harvey Milk’s accomplishments, specific types of civic engagement mentioned in the handout, and the impact he had on democracy in the United States.

 

Also, share your thoughts on whether you think Harvey Milk and/or two other civically engaged Americans of your choosing should be included in all U.S. high school history textbooks. 

Vocabulary

  • LGBT—abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered
     

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom—the U.S.’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors

References

[1] “Harvey Milk Biography,” Biography.com, https://www.biography.com/people/harvey-milk-9408170 [26 June 2018]. 


“Harvey Milk Day Annual Event,” Our Center, http://www.ourcenterreno.org/harvey-milk-day-annual-event/ [26 June 2018]. 

Next Up:

RECAP: CIVICALLY ENGAGED AMERICANS

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 1

Lead a discussion based on what students have learned through their assignment on civically engaged Americans.

CIVICALLY ENGAGED STUDENTS

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 2

Students hear from students about how they have become civically active.

WHY I CARE: A STUDENT ACTIVIST’S PERSPECTIVE

DAY 2, ACTIVITY 3

Students watch a short profile of student activist Michelle Hua.

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