1930 - 1978

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights...it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”

- Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk, a U.S. Navy Veteran who served during the Korean War, was the first widely known and nationally recognized openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. In 1977 Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thanks to a canny political combination of immigrant, elderly, minority, union and gay voter support. His vast grassroots based campaign and subsequent victory signaled a coming-of-age for San Francisco’s LGBT population. Affable and shrewd, politically adept and a skilled negotiator, Milk was destined to enjoy a bright future both within San Francisco’s political realm as well as on the national stage. But it was not to be. On November 27, 1978, a mere 11 months after taking office, Harvey Milk was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Disgruntled former City Supervisor Dan White was ultimately convicted, not of first-degree murder, but of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter – a verdict that triggered riots in the gay community. White served five years, only to commit suicide a year after his release from prison. Despite Milk’s short career in politics, he became an icon in San Francisco and "a martyr for gay rights" worldwide. Activist Cleve Jones observed “Though we tend to see our heroes as these mythic people, Harvey was an ordinary man, who faced challenges, defeats and humiliations like the rest of us …but he took the heart of San Francisco.” Anne Kronenberg, who managed Milk’s final campaign, wrote: "What set Harvey apart… was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us." Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He remains the most famous openly gay person ever elected to office – an inspiration to the hundreds of men and women who can trace their own courageous forays into public service back to the historic election of Harvey Milk.

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Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Information Age (1970-present) Korean War (1950-1953) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980) Stonewall Era (1969-1974)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism

Civics, Government, Politics, & Law



Social Justice

Social Sciences

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (1978)

Harvey Milk High School in New York City (1985)

Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco Dedicated (1985)

Named One of Time Magazine's 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century (1999)

Named One of Advocate Magazine 40 Heroes of the 20th Century (2000)

Posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom For Activism (2009)

Harvey Milk Day Enacted in California (2009)

Posthumous California Hall of Fame Inductee (2009)

US Postal Service Commemorative Postage Stamp- First LGBT Politician to Receive the Honor (2014)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

San Francisco International Airport Terminal 1 Renamed Harvey Milk Terminal 1 (2019)

Harvey Milk Square in Paris France Named After Him (2019)

Command Fleet Oiler to be Named USNS Harvey Milk (2021)


Related Videos

The Last Words of Harvey Milk

1978 NBC News Report Meet Harvey Milk

1978 News Report on the Assassination of Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor Ge…

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Harvey Milk and George Moscone at the Commonwealth Clu…

Obama White House Look at Harvey Milk's Legacy Featuring his Nephew Stuart Milk…

President Obama Honors Harvey Milk With Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Times of Harvey Milk Documentary Trailer

TED-Ed Animated Overview of Harvey Milk's Life

Harvey Milk 1978 Speech in Los Angeles


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Lane French
Northwestern University and Tim Wilson
San Francisco Public Library
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Courtesy of Dan F. Nicoletta
Original Photographer
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Courtesy of Dan F. Nicoletta
Original Photographer
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell