Harvey Milk, Gay Rights Activist and Politician

Harvey Milk was born to Jewish parents in New York in 1930. He joined the United States Navy and served as a diving officer during the Korean War. However, like Fred Kameney, he was “other than honorably” discharged from the Navy during the Lavender Scare for being a gay man. He didn’t immediately become an activist and chose instead to live quietly for several years.

He became more of an activist during the Vietnam War, when he protested the United States participation, and became more publicly open about being a gay man. He also became frustrated with the local politics of the day, and decided to become involved in local government. After a few unsuccessful runs, he won his election for City-County Supervisor and became the first openly gay person in San Francisco public office.

Milk cared about several issues that would help a lot of his constituents, including improved childcare facilities, public transportation, and increased oversight over police departments (even back then some people groups were experiencing violence by police). He also worked with Gilbert Baker to create the Pride Flag and unite people under a banner of love and mutual respect.


Harvey Milk was assassinated by a former City Supervisor with whom he disagreed about politically. Anticipating that he would likely be killed, he once said “if a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” After news spread of his death, thousands of people across the country were inspired to come out. By bravely choosing to be true to himself, he inspired others to be brave and be true to themselves.

Harvey Milk was awarded posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barack Obama.