Today marks the 93rd birthday of Harvey Milk, a pioneering figure in the LGBTQ rights movement. Milk, the first openly gay public official in the United States, was assassinated at the age of 48 when he was assassinated in 1978 by fellow San Francisco Assemblyman Dan White. On this day, many in the LGBTQ community, especially gay men over 50, remember Milk’s indelible contributions and continue the fight for justice, particularly in the face of the persistent gun violence epidemic.
Harvey Milk’s death shook the LGBTQ community to its core, leaving a profound sense of loss and outrage. In response, vigils were held across the nation, from San Francisco to Washington D.C., as a collective expression of grief and solidarity. Milk’s assassination served as a rallying cry, igniting a powerful sense of unity and political mobilization within the LGBTQ community.
The legacy of Harvey Milk extends far beyond his time in public office. Despite serving for less than a year, Milk’s influence played a pivotal role in defeating Proposition 6, a discriminatory measure that aimed to ban LGBTQ teachers from working in California. His unwavering advocacy set in motion a wave of political change, leading to the establishment of anti-discrimination policies and legal protections for the LGBTQ community, including the landmark legalization of same-sex marriage and the passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Since his death, openly LGBTQ political leaders have emerged, making tangible strides and enacting positive change for the community. However, the fight for justice and safety remains a central focus, particularly concerning the devastating impact of gun violence.
Gun violence disproportionately affects LGBTQ individuals, with LGBTQ youth being at a heightened risk of threats and harm involving weapons in schools. Statistics from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reveal that while only 6% of non-LGBTQ youth reported such incidents, the numbers rose to 17% for LGBTQ youth, 29% for transgender youth, and 30% for questioning youth.
Milk famously foresaw the possibility of his assassination in a prerecorded message.
“This is Harvey Milk, speaking on Friday, November 18, 1978. This tape is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination. … I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for — an activist, a gay activist — becomes the target or potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed… Knowing that I could be assassinated at any moment, at any time, I feel it’s important that some people know my thoughts and why I did what I did. Almost everything that was done was done with an eye on the gay movement. …I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad in response to my death, but I hope they will take the frustration and madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights. … All I ask is for the movement to continue, and if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door…”
Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, commemorated the day with another quote from Harvey —
“I hope to leave behind good memories of someone who really tried to do good. Memories of an ear for all those who are troubled; memories of someone who did all they could, even if that means having less quantity of achievements and time. If I am remembered as an example of courage and a quality of hopefulness, then maybe my life will have consequence.”
Locally, Utah Stonewall Democrats commemorated Harvey Milk Day in a Facebook post.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall posted, “What Harvey Milk represented is just as important as ever. Salt Lake City values our LGBTQ+ residents and the rights that inherently belong to them as human beings. We will always be an inclusive place to call home in Utah.”
Mama Dragons posted, “Today, we honor the influential LGBTQ+ civil rights leader Harvey Milk, who dedicated his life to equality, love, and acceptance. Let’s remember his legacy, celebrate progress, and continue the fight for a more inclusive and just society for our LGBTQ kids.”
Equality Utah posted, “On this day, we celebrate [Milk’s] life, legacy, and his fearless activism for LGBTQ+ rights that continues to inspire decades later.”