Harvey Milk: The Mayor of Castro Street
Harvey Milk made history when he became the first openly gay man to be elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. His brilliant political career was tragically cut short when he was assassinated nearly a year after taking office.
His work as a civil rights champion and his assassination paved the way for a broader discussion of LGBT rights to become mainstream in the United States. In the years following Milk’s death, there have been hundreds of openly LGBT public officials in America.
Harvey Milk in gay San Francisco
In late 1972, bored with his life in New York, Harvey Milk moved to San Francisco, California. He opened a camera shop called Castro Camera on Castro Street, right in the heart of the city’s gay community.
Castro Camera increasingly became a neighborhood center. Milk’s sense of humor and theatricality made him a popular figure. He found his voice as a leader, and he was affectionately referred to as “the Mayor of Castro Street.”
Milk vied for a spot on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1973, then again in 1975. He lost both elections, but he gained enough support to put him on the city’s political map.
In 1977, on his third try, he was finally elected to the Board of Supervisors. His election made national and international headlines– it was an important and symbolic victory for the LGBT community.
Harvey Milk as city supervisor
Milk was the driving force behind the passage of a gay-rights city ordinance that prohibited discrimination, or unequal treatment, in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.
He also gained national attention for his role in defeating a state senate proposal that would have prohibited gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools in California.
For Milk, gay issues were merely one part of an overall human rights vision. He was not a one-issue politician– he battled for a wide range of social changes in such areas as education, public transportation, child care, and low-income housing.
His strong commitment to serving a broad constituency, not just LGBT people, made Milk an effective and popular supervisor.
The death and legacy of Harvey Milk
On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death by former city supervisor Dan White.
That night, a crowd of thousands spontaneously came together on Castro Street and marched to City Hall in a silent candlelight vigil that has been recognized as one of the most eloquent responses to violence that a community has ever expressed.
In the years since the killings, Harvey Milk’s legacy as a leader and pioneer has endured, with numerous books and films made about his life.
Milk has become a symbol for the LGBT community of both what has been achieved and the work that still lies ahead.