Harvey Milk

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Harvey Milk in 1978 as the mayor's representative
Harvey's Bar in the Castro district , named after Harvey Milk, pedestrian crossing with Rainbow Flag Colors

Harvey Bernard Milk (born May 22, 1930 in Woodmere , Nassau County , New York , † November 27, 1978 in San Francisco ) was an American politician ( Democratic Party ) and civil rights activist for the gay and lesbian movement . He was the first openly gay politician in the United States.

Childhood and youth

Harvey Milk was born on May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, New York State. After his brother Robert, who was four years older, he was the second child of Bill and Minerva Milk, née Karns - pious Jews immigrated from Lithuania . In 1945 his family moved to Bay Shore, where Milk graduated from high school in 1947. Harvey Milk lived out his homosexuality as a teenager, but withheld it from his family and those around him.

Milk began a teacher training course at Albany State College in 1947, majoring in mathematics and history . He wrote for the college newspaper and was known to be a sociable, easygoing student. In 1951 he finished his studies with a degree.

Time before political activity

After graduating, Milk served almost four years in the US Navy as a Navy Diver, which he had already committed to after graduating from high school. Until 1957 he worked as a teacher at the George W. Hewlett High School in Long Island. He met Joe Campbell, with whom he began a longstanding relationship. Soon he got bored of his work and they moved to Dallas , Texas together , where they didn't feel comfortable. They returned to New York and Milk found work as an insurance statistician.

After the couple split after seven years, Milk felt lonely and bored in New York. So he thought about going to Miami to marry a lesbian friend there. In this way he could have hidden his sexual orientation from family and society without “being in each other's way”. However, he rejected the idea and stayed in New York. In 1962 he met Craig Rodwell, an activist with the Mattachine Society , an organization that campaigned for gay rights. When Rodwell advocated violence against the police to enforce rights, the relationship ended.

At the age of 33, Milk fell in love with John Galen McKinley. He quit his job as an insurance statistician and found a job as an analyst with Bache & Company, an investment firm . McKinley was hired to direct a performance of the musical Hair in San Francisco. Milk followed him and found a job as a financial analyst . The relationship with McKinley was difficult because of his manic-depressive illness and lasted until 1968. After the separation McKinley went back to New York to work on the production of O'Horgans rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar . Milk, on the other hand, saw his future in San Francisco: "I would like to be mayor of San Francisco for my life."

Living situation of homosexuals in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s

Main article: Homosexuality in the United States

Until the late 1970s, homosexual acts were punishable by law in almost every state in the United States. ( See also: Chronology of Sodomy Laws in the United States .) Because this criminal law is a state competence, there is no single date for legalization. Even oral intercourse , including between opposite-sex partners, was prohibited in many states and was prosecuted as a sexual offense. The Gay - bars were exposed to a high police pursuit pressure; there were frequent police raids during which the guests were arrested and registered. Homosexual acts also in the private sector, in rented apartments, could, if they became known, lead to the termination of the apartment without notice. As a result, many gays preferred anonymous sex in the parks at night. Here, in turn, they were exposed to prosecution for the crime of “sex in public places”. In 1970 alone, 2,800 men were arrested in San Francisco for this after the parks were intensified under surveillance by local police.

Under the pressure of discrimination and under the influence of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, the level of organization among gays increased. Associations that campaign for gay and lesbian rights, such as the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) and the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club ("Alice" for short ) in San Francisco in 1971 , were founded and gained political influence. Congressmen discovered the gays as a potential electorate, especially as Liberal MPs were specifically promoted and sponsored, and attended meetings of LGBT organizations. At the same time, leading activists pushed public and political circles and solicited support. It was necessary to exercise a certain restraint in the formulation of the intentions and demands in order not to scare off potential supporters from politics and society. However, this in turn provoked criticism from within. Many gay retailers and gay bar operators in San Francisco, subject to persistent discrimination and law enforcement, were unhappy with what they felt was the reluctance of their representatives and called for more aggressive action to enforce their rights.

Political activity

In 1970, Milk broke his bourgeois life. One of the reasons was the US invasion of Cambodia , which sparked violent protests and demonstrations among mostly younger Americans. The protesters accused the American corporations to nourish the conflict because it would bring them business benefits, many burned in protest their credit cards of Bank of America . Milk was fired that afternoon for refusing to cut his hair short. Milk went back to New York and worked as a production assistant at Tom O'Horgan. After the play Inner City was not very successful, Milk went back to San Francisco in 1972 with his new life partner Joseph Scott Smith, whom he had met at the Christopher Street subway station . After living on unemployment benefits for a year, Milk and Smith opened a photography shop on Castro Street on March 3, 1973.

First candidacy

At the beginning of the 1970s, Milk developed from a hippie who was hardly interested in politics to a politically minded person. He saw his candidacy as a gay person as the best means of moving the gay movement forward. The investigation into the Watergate affair was the final impetus for Milk to become politically active. In particular, the appearance of former Attorney General John Mitchell before the committee of inquiry made Milk very angry. He realized that, as he later said, "should get involved now or shut up forever". He decided to apply for a seat on the city council and asked the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club for support. Its chairman, Jim Foster, made it unmistakably and, as Milk later reported, in an extremely condescending tone, that it had no intention of supporting a candidate who had not previously earned his merit in daily politics.

However, Milk had support in his borough's gay community who were unhappy with their representatives. In addition, Milk had the ability to reach a broad base of diverse interest groups. During the election campaign, he supported the beer drivers' strike by ensuring that bar owners boycotted the beer of the breweries on strike. Milk had agreed with transport workers union representative Alan Baird, in return for support, that gays should get more jobs as beer drivers. He was elected 10th out of 32 candidates, received the most votes of all candidates in his district and still no seat on the city council. He was not discouraged by his defeat and remained politically active. He realized that he would only get a seat on the city council if he could win over the more conservative voters in the other districts. Two weeks after the election, he cut his hair short, assured him that he would never again smoke marijuana , which he had previously advocated legalization, and that he would no longer go to gay saunas.

In 1974 Milk expanded its political motto “Gays choose gay” to include the motto “Gays buy gay”. He founded - also in response to the negative attitude of the long-established retail association, which had previously denied some gay retailers a license to open stores - its own lobby group for gay retailers. He also organized a street festival, the "Castro Street Fair", which is still celebrated today, with which he won potential customers for retail in his district. So he began to gradually secure the support of the non-gay retailers as well, as this was also beneficial for their business. After a confrontation between police and gays escalated on May 1, 1974, Milk brought this issue to the attention of the public. He called the victims of this police attack the "14 from the Castro" and wrote in a column: "I pay taxes to the police to protect me, not to persecute me." ( Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A life for them Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 155. )

Second candidacy

When Milk ran for the city council for the second time in 1975, he could not win the official support of the trade union umbrella organization, but it did win the support of regular unions. He was supported by the civil engineering workers' union, the local beer driver group and the fire brigade union. Milk enjoyed the special symbolism of this support, which lay in the fact that these three unions were also referred to as "macho unions".

Milk again received no support from the liberal and Marxist- oriented gays. Their activists expressed concern that the odd-headed outsider Milk would create a bad image for gays. The radical gays of the left, on the other hand, attached more importance to the realization of their Marxist goals, which they saw as an elementary prerequisite for the enforcement of gay rights, while Milk did not see the enforcement of these interests in an ideological context . Milk saw in the standpoints of the liberal and Marxist gay groups only traditional gay defeatism .

Milk did have less money and volunteer support than other candidates. But he was very present in the media, which he knew how to involve himself. He cleverly used his conflict with established gay interest groups to position himself in the media. He referred to them as gay " Uncle Toms ", with which he criticized the submissive, submissive attitude of those in his opinion. When President Gerald Ford visited San Francisco in 1975 and an assassin tried to open fire on Ford with a pistol, the former Marine Oliver Sipple fell into the hand and the shot went nowhere. He had once been the lover of Joe Campbell, Milk's former partner. The press immediately stylized Sipple as a hero, but he did not want his sexual orientation mentioned. Milk recognized his opportunity here too: “This opportunity is too good to pass up. We can show here that gays can also be heroes, not this crap of child abusers and gay saunas ”. He started a press campaign in which he pointed out that Sipple had not received any official thanks for his sexual orientation and did not neglect to mention his name in connection with his acquaintance with Sipple.

John Barbagelata ran for the post of mayor as a conservative candidate. He had made a name for himself with the fact that in 1972 he was the only one to vote against a proposal by Dianne Feinstein , which had the content of equal rights for gays. The Liberal favorite was George Moscone . At that time he was already the majority leader in the California Senate . There he had succeeded in abolishing the "crimes against nature" law that made gays into felons.

Milk could not win a place on the city council in this election either. He reached seventh place out of six seats to be awarded. Although all councilors from the old council were re-elected, a more liberal trend was emerging in the city. Liberal candidates were elected to the posts of sheriff and chief prosecutor and, after a run-off election, George Moscone was elected mayor. On election night, Milk especially thanked his partner Scott Smith for his support. However, the two had become increasingly estranged. Milk no longer had anything of the hippie and bon vivant with whom the much younger Smith had once fallen in love.

Candidacy for the lower house

In early 1976, Mayor Moscone appointed Milk as a member of the Licensing Appeal Committee. This committee decided in the last instance on all concessions and licenses awarded by the city. But since Milk decided to run for the Californian House of Commons in the same year , he lost the position on this appeal committee again after five weeks because a regulation by Mayor Moscone forbade the candidacy of members of public committees. Milk saw good chances of winning a place in the lower house. After all, he had won more votes in his constituency in the city council elections than enough for outgoing House of Commons John Foran to win the seat. Milk had other reasons to run for public office again in 1976, which he only entrusted to his partner Scott Smith: Milk feared that he would not be able to hold out until the 1977 city council elections.

Milk ran against Art Agnos, who had the support of Democratic politicians like Moscone and the President of the House of Commons Leo McCarthy. It was common knowledge that these politicians had long agreed on Agnos. Milk was not ready to accept this nepotism . A liberal weekly newspaper headlined in anticipation of his possible candidacy: Harvey Milk against the apparatus . Milk found a professional campaign manager in John Ryckman. John Ryckman hoped that Milk would make a powerful contribution to gay rights. He was motivated by the painful memory of the discrimination that his partner had to experience as a soldier in the US Army .

Milk did not receive any support from the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in this candidacy either, but the latter also refrained from speaking out in favor of Agnos. Support was divided among the unions. While the factory workers, firefighters, transport workers and the civil engineering association again supported Milk, the other unions again supported Agnos. The first reports after the election saw Milk as the winner. After a few hours it was clear that Agnos had won the election. Although Milk was clearly ahead in the Castro Street constituency, he could not stand against the superiority Agnos had over minorities such as African American and Latino . Milk received death threats during the election campaign. This may have contributed to Milk and Scott separating and Scott finally moving out of the house in August.

Milk as a city councilor

Before the 1977 city council elections, the right to vote was changed. The candidates now ran in districts and no longer for the entire city area. In this election, Milk won a seat on the city council.

Violent death

Harvey Milk and then Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone , were shot dead in City Hall in 1978 by former Alderman Dan White . Frustrated by local politics, White had previously resigned from his seat on the city council. After changing his mind, he asked Mayor Moscone to reinstall him. He refused the request, including on the advice of Harvey Milk, which was correct under current law. A renewed appointment to the office was not legally possible. This enraged White so much that he shot Moscone and Milk one after the other.

After the mild sentence against White (seven years in prison for manslaughter ) was pronounced , there were serious clashes between gays and the police in San Francisco in May 1979 in the square in front of the city hall: the White Night Riots . As a result, the local police stormed into the Castro district , which was mostly inhabited by gays and lesbians, and destroyed the furnishings of several gay and lesbian bars, including the shop opened by Harvey Milk in 1974 and later the “Castro Camera” campaign center. Dan White spent five years in prison for the double homicide and committed on 21 October 1985 at the age of 39 years suicide by introducing exhaust gases into his car.

Harvey Milks urn is now in the San Francisco Columbarium .


Harvey Milk Plaza
Inauguration of the historic tram
Stuart Milk accepts the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on behalf of his late uncle
Permanent exhibition in "Harvey Milk Terminal 1" at San Francisco Airport
  • In the East Village of New York , the Harvey Milk High School , which opened in 1985, was named after him.
  • At the intersection of Castro Street, Market Street, and 17th Street is Harvey Milk Plaza, sometimes called the Harvey Milk Memorial Plaza. It opened on September 15, 1985. It is a lowered entrance to the Castro Street subway station of the San Francisco Municipal Railway (SF Muni) built into the hillside, accessible by stairs from Castro Street and on the south side of which there are terraces. On May 21, 2006, on Milk's birthday, a permanent photo exhibition was unveiled in the plaza. It consists of eleven photographs by seven photographers, which were applied to three porcelain panels.
    In 2000, a competition was held to redesign the square. The first prize went to an architecture firm and to the “Pink Cloud” project. This comes from Christian Werthmann, who moved with his wife from Passau to San Francisco in 1997, and his former colleagues from the Kassel architects Loma.
  • On November 7, 1997, 20 years after Milk's election victory, Mayor Willie Brown pulled the 9 m by 6 m rainbow flag onto the 21 m high mast for the first time in a ceremony at the crossroads, rarely called Harvey Milk Square . It is the largest continuously raised rainbow flag. It is only temporarily replaced by a smaller version in bad weather or storms. In 2000, an 8-lane version hung for about a year.
  • A mural has been on the facade of 575 Castro Street - where Milk's Castro Cameras shop and his and Scott Smith's apartment were - since June 1998. The picture on the first floor, which was painted by Josef Norris, shows Milk happily looking out onto the street. In the sidewalk in front of it there is a bronze plaque that explains the meaning of Milks and ends with the sentence: “ You gotta give 'em hope! ”(German:“ You have to give them hope! ”) At the beginning of the year 2000 the city council adopted a resolution declaring the building a Historic Building .
  • On May 22, 2008, Milk's 78th birthday, a bust was unveiled at the top of the main staircase in City Hall. It stands in front of the city council conference room, the place where civil wedding ceremonies are also held.
  • On October 28, 2008, the day of the world premiere of the film Milk , a historic tram (car no. 1051) was dedicated to Harvey Milk as a “museum on wheels”. SF Muni has a fleet of historic cars that run from the Ferry Building along Market Street to Castro Street and along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf . Milk himself was a strong advocate of local public transport , supported SF Muni during his time as councilor and took the bus to work every day.
  • On July 30, 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom . The medal was presented to civil rights activist Stuart Milk on behalf of his murdered uncle .
  • In October 2009, the incumbent California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law making May 22 (Milks birthday) Harvey Milk Day. According to the law, students should be introduced to Milk's contribution to the State of California that day. Milk is the second Californian to receive this honor in his home state , after the polymath John Muir . In 2008 Schwarzenegger had still vetoed this honor. According to press spokesman Aaron McLear, the reason for the change of opinion was the attention it received from the successful film with Sean Penn and the award of the Medal of Freedom .
  • The United States Navy will name a tanker that has yet to be built after Milk. bbc.com
  • The American Post issued a postage stamp in honor of Harvey Milk in 2014.


See also

Web links

Commons : Harvey Milk  - collection of images, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 26.
  2. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 76.
  3. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 123.
  4. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 129.
  5. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 136.
  6. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 207.
  7. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 210.
  8. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 213.
  9. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 217.
  10. Randy Shilts: Harvey Milk - A Life for the Community. Bruno Gmünder Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 237.
  11. a b Dennis McMillan: Harvey Milk Memorial Plaques Unveiled ( Memento from February 2, 2013 in the web archive archive.today ). In: San Francisco Bay Times , May 25, 2006.
  12. a b c d e Uncle Donald: Harvey Milk - 30 YEARS LATER , Uncle Donald's Castro Street, October 31, 1998, August 8, 2009 version.
  13. ^ Dan Levy: Contest Open for Memorial Designs. In: San Francisco Chronicle , July 28, 2000.
  14. MIW: Passau architect designed space in San Francisco. In: Die Welt , October 30, 2000.
  15. ^ Lord Martine: Over the Rainbow - The continuing miracle of Castro Street, explained. In: San Francisco Chronicle , November 25, 2001.
  16. Kerry Eleveld: Obama Extends Honors in Show of Unity ( Memento of August 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) In: The Advocate , August 12, 2009.
  17. Denis Staunton: Obama names Robinson for top civilian honor. In: The Irish Times , July 31, 2009.
  18. milkfoundation.org : Homepage Milk Foundation
  19. AP / AFP: Harvey Milk - Memorial Day for Gay Activists . In: Focus Online , October 13, 2009.
  20. California introduces Milk Memorial Day. queer.de, October 13, 2009.
  21. store.usps.com