Harvey Milk
(1931-1978)


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 Defense."

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 shortly afterward.

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 world.

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 links.


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