HAPPY HARVEY MILK DAY!: “Harvey Milk: Six Powerful Lessons Today’s Activists Can Learn from Milk” / May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978 ☮

In 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially designated May 22 as Harvey Milk Day––­­­­even though the year before he vetoed the measure. What changed? “Milk has become much more of a symbol of the gay community,” explained Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson Aaron McLear, citing the award-winning film Milk and President Obama’s posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom as reasons for Schwarzenegger’s change of heart.

Today Gus Van Sant’s powerful portrait of the slain gay San Francisco leader still resonates as a profile in courage and a blueprint for social change. Sean Penn––who won an Academy Award for his performance––brilliantly embodies the passion, humor, and humanity of Harvey Milk. In our unsettled political times, the role of citizen-fueled resistance movements is greater than ever. In honor of this gay rights hero––and as part of Focus Features’ 15th anniversary celebration––we look at six powerful lessons modern-day activists can take away from Milk.

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SOCIAL ACTIVISM: “Harvey Milk” / May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978 ☮

“Harvey served less than a year in public office before his brutal assassination but his life profoundly changed a city, state, nation and a global community.  His courage, passion and sense of justice rocked a country and stirred the very core of a put down and pushed out community, bringing forward new hope and a new vision of freedom”
~ Harvey Milk Foundation.

Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978)

After three unsuccessful campaigns, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. His election was a landmark event. The reason? Harvey Milk was gay, and his election was the first of an openly gay elected official in the United States. To win the election, Milk had to gain the support of all segments of his district.

On election night, Harvey Milk reminded his supporters: “This is not my victory — it’s yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight.”

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Milk knew that his position as a San Francisco Supervisor advocating gay rights placed him in danger. Hate mail began to pour into his office. With chilling foresight Milk made a tape recording on November 18, 1977, with instructions to have it read only if he died by assassination. In it he says, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a former police officer who had clashed with Milk over gay issues. After shooting the mayor, White entered Milk’s office and shot him five times at his desk.

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