Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

This Month in SGN History — Gay Leader Murdered

Share this Post:

Dive into the archives of the SGN at https://issuu.com/sgn.org

The front page of Volume 5, Issue 22  

DECEMBER 8, 1978

Harvey Milk, perhaps the best-known openly homosexual individual in the United States, is dead, assassinated. And now at least one of the thousands and thousands of gay martyrs — burned at the stake in the Middle Ages as witches, put to death for "ungodly acts," imprisoned for "crimes against nature," shut up in the inhuman mental institutions, given electroshock treatment or aversion therapy by modern science, rejected by family and society, driven to alcohol, drugs, or suicide — one of those martyrs now has a face.

San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death last Monday. Dan White, a former supervisor, disappointed that Moscone had not renamed him to his old job, later confessed to the two killings. Milk, San Francisco's only openly gay elected official, had opposed the re-appointment.

Dan White is an admitted homophobe and opponent of gay rights, and whatever rationale he had for the mad act, it is no coincidence that one of the men he murdered was the political representative of San Francisco's estimated 120,000 homosexuals.

Shortly before he died, Milk, who was only one of many opponents to White's re-appointment, spoke about his former colleague, "I think he (White) came to see the city as straights against all liberals and gays... Gay people don't feel comfortable in Dan White's district."

San Francisco District Attorney Joseph Freitas said Wednesday that he will seek the death penalty in White's trial, which will probably be held elsewhere in the state.

Several memorial observances were held in San Francisco for Milk and Moscone last week. Milk was cremated Friday at Sha'ar Za'hav, a gay Jewish congregation. Acting Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who called for the city's "emotional reconstruction" in the wake of the killings, has reportedly promised to appoint another gay supervisor to take Milk's place.

Although Harvey Milk only served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for one year, he was probably the foremost gay political figure in the country. Last April, Milk and Moscone sat side-by-side at the city's imposing, domed City Hall as a gay rights ordinance similar to Seattle's was signed into law. Milk was one of the leaders of the successful campaign against California's Proposition 6, which would have banned gay teachers from the state's school system, publicly debating sponsoring Sen. John Briggs several times.

Most recently, Milk was the prime mover behind the effort for a national gay rights march on Washington, which had become bogged down in factional argument.

Although Milk may not have had the spiritual stature of a civil rights leader like Martin Luther King [sic], his identification as a leading spokesman for a despised minority put him in the same endangered position. And he knew it. Shortly after his election, according to friend John Wahl, Milk made a tape "in case of just such a tragic event as occurred today."

In the section of the tape recording released by Wahl, Milk said:

"I know that when a person is assassinated after they have achieved victory, there are several tendencies. One is to have some people go crazy in the streets, angry and frustrated, and the other is to have a big show or splash.

"Naturally, I want neither.

"I cannot prevent anybody from getting angry or mad or frustrated. I can only hope they'll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive so that hundreds will step forward, so that gay doctors will come out, gay lawyers, gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects... I hope that every professional gay will just say 'Enough!', come forward and tell everybody, 'Wear a sign, let the world know'

"These are my strong requests, knowing that it could happen. Hoping it doesn't... and if it does, I think I've already achieved something.

"I think that it's been worth it."

Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, N.Y. in 1930, a grandson of a dairy farmer. He attended the New York College for Teachers in Albany, and served a submarine rescue ship in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War.

Milk moved to San Francisco in 1969, and worked as a Montgomery Street financial analyst. But on the day in 1970 when the United States invaded Cambodia, he quit his job and opened a camera shop on Castro Street, in the heart of San Francisco's most heavily gay district. He ran for supervisor unsuccessfully in 1973 and again in 1975. In the second race, Milk finished with 53,649 votes.

Because of his strong showing, Mayor Moscone then appointed Milk to a position on the board of Permit Appeals. Last November, he won election to the Board of Supervisors, representing the Upper Market and Haight areas.

In last year's election night victory speech, Milk said, "People thought the Pope would run the country, but after six months in office, when Kennedy started to do things, people never questioned him again. If I do a good job, people won't care if I'm green or have three heads."

Harvey Milk himself once spoke about the need for gay people to carry on in the face of oppression, appropriate words in the days after his death: "If I turned around every time somebody called me a faggot, I'd be walking backwards — and I don't want to walk backwards," he said.

Dive into the archives of the SGN at https://issuu.com/sgn.org