Harvey Milk Day - Darn Good Yarn

Harvey Milk Day

Written by Kate Curry

Who Is Harvey Milk?

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions..” – Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was an LGBTQAI+ activist and California politician who was born in New York City to a middle-class Jewish family on May 22nd, 1930. Milk studied to be a teacher at New York State College for Teachers at Albany! After graduating, he joined the Navy as a diving instructor. He left the military after he was interrogated about his sexual orientation. For his entire childhood and a majority of his young adulthood, Milk kept his true identity as a gay man hidden. 

Now out of the military, Milk found various jobs around New York City. He got involved in politics and activy protested against discrimination and the Vietnam War. In 1972, he left his home for San Francisco to open up his own business in the middle of the city’s gay community. 

A man wearing a blue shirt holding an orange 'equality for california' sign at a priderally is waving as he marches down the street, surrounded by signs and flags.

Soon after arriving in the city, he became a force in local politics. He fought against homophobic local laws that tried to stop queer people from opening small businesses by founding the Castro Village Association. This association was the first of its kind- an association of LGBTQAI+ small business owners with the goal of protecting each other and their stores. This was a powerful and protective group for the members of the queer community that made the gay community of Castro Village flourish. 

Milk ran for public office multiple times, and in 1977 he finally won his bid for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. This historic win made Harvey Milk the first openly gay person elected to public office. His win was news all over the world! 

Sadly, after a year of service to his beloved community, Milk was assassinated, along with his long-time supporter, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. The murderer, who doesn’t deserve to be remembered, was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He only served 5 years for both murders. 

What is LGBTQIA+?

Before we go any further, I’m sure you have some questions. What is LGBTQIA+? Why was it so important for a politician to be openly gay? Why was it such big news? 

Easiest answer first! LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that stands for: 

L: lesbian

G: gay

B: bisexual 

T: transexual 

Q: queer 

I: intersex 

A: asexual 

+: anyone in the community that does not identify with the above groups! Inclusion is the name of the game! 

It is really important for us in the queer community to see people like us in positions of importance. Seeing people like us doing good and making an impact on our community is something that we were not allowed for decades. In America, queer people have historically been demonized and marginalized. To see our community moving up in society is important to give us hope for the future! That’s why it was historically important for Harvey Milk to be openly gay and in public office.

Now- why was it such big news? In this time, most queer people stayed ‘in the closet’, meaning they kept their identity hidden. To be out of the closet was to be in danger. Openly gay people were (and are often still today) routenly fired, harassed, attacked, and even murdered for being gay. Harvey Milk being out and proud in such a public manner gave other LGBTQIA+ people hope that they too could be who they were with pride! 

A woman with curly dark hair and a red jacket is tilting her head back as she poses for the camera. Behind her are two people, one wearing a rainbow flag as a cape.

What Impact Did Harvey Milk Leave Behind?

During his time in office, Milk helped pass gay rights ordinances which banned discrimination of gay people in San Francisco, which included fighting against the discrimination of queer teachers. This initiative, known as the Briggs Initiative, would have banned queer people from teaching in public schools. 

Harvey Milk fought for human rights in general, not just for the LGBTQIA+ community. From environmental protections, labor laws, housing, and neighborhood issues, Milk believed that every person was valuable and precious as a unique individual. He believed that everyone should have a safe neighborhood, access to good public education, affordable housing, healthcare, childcare, and equality for all! 

After his death, Time magazine included Harvey Milk in their list of “The 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.” He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and with a Forever Stamp in 2014. His memory and work was continued by his beloved nephew Stuart, who founded the Milk Foundation. Milk is remembered as a queer icon who paved the way for other LGBTQIA+ people to take a stand and be an active and visible member of the community.

Two people stand behind a rainbow flag that they are raising up. The run is shining through, showing the silhouettes of the two people in front of the flag.

How To Celebrate Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk Day was first established by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. Celebrated on his birthday, Harvey Milk Day is important to the LGBTQIA+ community, activists, teachers, and students around the world. 

There is no wrong way to celebrate Harvey Milk Day, but we have a few suggestions! 

  1. Fly that rainbow flag and get your queer gear on! 
  2. Support LGBTQIA+ owned businesses and creators 
  3. Make some queer-themed or rainbow-themed crafts!
  4. Donate your time to your local LGBTQIA+ associations and centers 
  5. Read “Hope”, a speech written by Harvey Milk when he announced his candidacy. 
  6. Donate directly to the Harvey Milk Foundation

However you choose to celebrate, I hope you go out there and make an impact! 

Meet the Author

Profile picture of the author, Kate Curry, wearing a dark red Nanda Poncho sitting on concrete stairs in front of brick wall.

Kate has been on the Darn Good Yarn team since 2018.

They have their degree in Creative Art Therapy & Psychology - and like crafting and animals a little too much.