Harvey Milk Remembered 40 Years After Assassination

Harvey Milk Remembered 40 Years After Assassination
Photo by Daniel Nicoletta

Dozens of people braved rainy conditions in San Francisco on Tuesday night to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

Among the attendees at the event included San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, and Milk’s longtime friend and confidant Cleve Jones.

Jones recalled the slain city supervisor as someone who was “there” for people, no matter where they were from, what they looked like, or who they loved.

“He was never a single-issue candidate,” Jones said at the vigil, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “He understood the commonality of our struggle. Gay, straight. Young, old. Black, brown, and white. Immigrant and native born.”

Milk, a New York native who embraced his sexuality once he settled in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco in 1972, rose to fame during his three unsuccessful political campaigns. After running twice for city supervisor and once for the California State Assembly, he finally won a city supervisor election in 1977, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California and one of the first in US history.

The next year, Milk and Moscone were murdered by Dan White, a fellow member of the board of supervisors who clashed politically with Milk and lobbied Moscone unsuccessfully to give him his job back after resigning abruptly.

White infamously used a “Twinkie” defense in his subsequent trial — blaming his actions on his consumption of junk food — and was only convicted of manslaughter. He spent five years in prison before being released, and later committed suicide.

Milk played an influential role in helping San Francisco pass a gay rights ordinance and preventing an initiative that would have led to the firing of gay teachers in California. But he also demonstrated a willingness to embrace broader issues: he called on dog owners to clean up after their animals and earned support from labor groups when, at the request of the Teamsters, he rallied gay bars to stop serving Coors because the beer distributor wouldn’t sign a labor contract.