What Harvey Taught Us

harveymilkHarvey Milk was born on May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, New York. Harvey was truly an amazing man and an inspiration for all people. He was a Navy veteran, a civil rights activist, and the first openly gay person to ever hold a public office. This past Wednesday, Harvey would have celebrated his 83rd birthday. Unfortunately, on November 27, 1978, Harvey was assassinated by former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White. However, Harvey’s death was not in vain. As Harvey put it, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” and although the struggle for gay rights continues today, Harvey was a catalyst for the movement. Harvey helped to pass legislation to protect the gay community in San Francisco, fought with labor unions in an effort to get them to hire more gay employees, organized marches and rallies for gay rights, and publicly challenged anti-gay rights groups and leaders, such as Anita Bryant, among many other accomplishments.

Known as the unofficial mayor of San Fransisco’s gay district, the Castro, Harvey was truly before his time. He recognized inequality and fought to end it. He dared to dream of a better tomorrow, one filled with equality for all people and one where gays and lesbians could live openly and enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else. If Harvey were alive today, he would be proud of how far the LGBT community has come, it would probably bring tears to his eyes; but, he would most likely still be out there, hitting the pavement everyday, and continuing to fight until full equality is achieved.

Harvey taught us to stand up to inequality wherever it occurs. He taught us that our collective voices are important and that there is strength in numbers. He showed us that even one person can make a difference. He taught us that it was not good enough to back down in the face of opposition. He taught us to never stop fighting for what is right and what is just. Harvey inspired us to believe that we could live in a world where all people are treated equality regardless of sexual orientation. Harvey taught us not to be afraid. He showed us that being gay is not a bar to success and taught us how important it is to have hope. As his foundation puts it:

“Harvey showed us all what one person, standing up loudly and clearly, against a fierce societal fear and prejudice can accomplish.  He created a rich and vivid message of hope and an enduring dream, teaching us how to create our own and leaving them for us to realize.”

Harvey may be gone, but his legacy and his dreams for a just tomorrow, where diversity is celebrated, and where all individuals can fully participate in all societal rights without exception lives on. As Harvey once put it:

“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.”


Harvey inspired a generation and generations to come, and paved the way for others like nobody had ever done before. Harvey Milk was a true American hero, and for that we thank him. Harvey, wherever you are, please know you are greatly appreciated and sorely missed. Thanks for everything you’ve done and thank you for inspiring us to keep fighting. We will make you proud, because as you put it, “hope is never silent.”

Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!

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  • Michael Bedwell

    With respect, Harvey Milk was NOT “the first openly gay person to ever hold a public office”? It takes nothing away from his real accomplishments to acknowledge that he was not only not the first, he wasn’t even the second. He was the fifth. Everyone, out of respect for the accomplishments of those elected before, please read out loud, and commit to memory:

    1st – Kathy Kozachenko, Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council, April 1, 1974.
    2nd – Elaine Noble, Massachusetts House of Representatives, November 5, 1974.
    3rd – Allan Spear, Minnesota State Senate, reelected November 1976 after coming out publicly in 1974.
    4th – Jim Yeadon, Madison, Wis., City Council, April 1977.
    5th – Harvey Milk, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, November 1977.

    Thank you.

  • Sandy Greer

    I lived in San Francisco at the time. And what I never forget about that day is there was another killing.

    Mayor George Moscone.

    Lost in all the remembrances of Harvey Milk is Mayor George Moscone – the first victim of Dan White.

    Dianne Feinstein was President of the SF Board of Supervisors. In rushing to render aid – she got the blood of the victims on her hands. It was she who announced the two murders to a stunned populace.

    She assumed Mayoral duties, and today is more widely known as Senator Dianne Feinstein.

    Nov 1978 were a dark time for SF, and the Bay Area. Peoples Temple was based in SF, and many of the dead in Guyana (earlier that month) were from the Bay Area. Our own Congressman, Leo Ryan, was killed down there, and his aide – now Congresswoman Jackie Speier – shot five times.

    A perspective on two women, who rose to prominence on the heels of tragedy.

    And a reminder SF also lost a Mayor that day (whose name is often forgotten) as well as a Supervisor.