(Photo: AP Photo/file)
May 22 is Harvey Milk Day, a day to remember and celebrate the accomplishments of the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. The date is officially marked in that state and a handful of others, but Milk's achievements aren't limited by geography.
Here's a bit of background: Milk was born on May 22, 1930, on Long Island. He went to college at SUNY, enrolled in the Navy after graduation, and served on a submarine during the Korean War. He had a long and varied career after the war as a teacher, an actuary, and a researcher. But it was in politics that he would have his biggest impact.
After moving to San Francisco, Milk began taking on leadership roles in both the LGBTQ community and his neighbourhood. He fought for individuals' rights, and became quite good at getting things done at the municipal level. He even got nicknamed "The Mayor of Castro Street" for his omni-presence and effectiveness.
Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. That election made history in the United States. Tragically, he would only serve for 10 months. On November 27, 1978, he was shot by a disgruntled former Supervisor, Dan White, who also shot San Francisco's mayor, George Moscone. White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and only served five years in prison.
You might already know some of that story. The Harvey Milk biopic, starring Penn, made huge Oscar waves when it was released in 2008 (Penn won best actor, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won for the screenplay). The trailer for it is below:
Of course, what's really worth remembering is that Milk stood as a figure of hope to so many people who were — and still are — subjugated. Today, there have been 203 openly gay representatives in public offices around the world, including the most recent addition to that list, Zakhele Mbhele, who was sworn in to South Africa's National Assembly yesterday.
You can read a great piece on the legacy of Harvey Milk on the Washington Post's website, here.
This year, the United States Postal Service will release a stamp with Harvey Milk's image on it to commemorate his life and legacy. It comes seven years after a letter-writing campaign petitioned to get his face on a stamp, and will be revealed by President Obama at the White House today.