Known as the "Mayor of Castro Street", Harvey Milk was the
first openy-gay person elected to the San Francisco Board of
Supervisors. A populist, community-oriented politician, he enjoyed a
broad base of support including sexual and ethnic minorities,
environmentalists, and labor. His colorful style and willingness to
take on any issue which mattered to him (whether or not directly
related to the gay community) made him well-known throughout San
Francisco, California, and the world.
As one of the first wave of gay merchants who re-invented
the Eureka Valley neighborhood in the early 1970's, Harvey Milk was a
standout figure in the new "Castro Village" commercial district. He
helped form the area's merchants association, and held court from his
small camera shop, offering residents (gay and non-gay) assistance
with municipal and other matters.
After several attempts, in which he was challenged by the
gay and Democratic party establishment, he was finally elected
Supervisor in 1976 and was instrumental in the passage of San
Francisco's first gay civil rights ordinance. By this point, Mayor
George Moscone had become his close political ally. Their nemesis was
conservative former police officer Dan White, the only memeber of the
board to vote against the civil rights ordinance.
On December 1978, Dan White, incensed at not being
reinstated to the seat he had just resigned, shot and killed both
Harvey Milk and George Moscone. The city mourned both politicians,
and it seemed a murder conviction was a foregone conclusion. This
over-confidence was answered with a simple manslaughter conviction.
Part of Dan White's defense centered around his instability due to
eating too much junk food. It became known as the "Twinkie
The verdict was followed by a gay rioting in the Civic Center area,
one of the largest such incidents in the city's history. The "White
Night" riots were answered by the San Francisco Police Department
with an unprovoked attack on the Castro district, in which dozens of
gay people were injured and a bar, the Elephant Walk, was nearly
destroyed. Its owners sued the city, and in an historic judgment,
were reimbursed for all damages incurred.
Dan White was paroled in 1985 and committed suicide
Harvey Milk's name lives on in the city as the first "official gay
martyr", and graces a Democratic Club, a branch of the San Francisco
Public Library, and now Harvey's on Castro, a new gay-themed bar and
restaurant in the old Elephant Walk site at Castro and 18th.
Harvey Milk inspired a new generation of anti-assimilationist gay
activists and will be long rememebered in San Farncisco and the
For more, read "The Mayor of Castro Street" by Randy Shilts. Also
there exists a website for an upcoming San Diego production of the
play "Execution of Justice" with pictures and useful