Got Milk?

Two days after Audrey Hale’s mass murder in Nashville last year, Joe Biden proclaimed March 31 “Transgender Day of Visibility,” as he did again this year, taking no note that the date fell on Easter. As Steve noted, “it is not as though there aren’t enough official opportunities to recognize the alphabet people.” For example, in April we have International Asexuality Day, International Day of Pink, the Day of Silence, and Lesbian Visibility Day. Coming up in May are International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia; Agender Pride Day, and “Harvey Milk Day.” On May 22, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Today we honor a hero for not just his own community, but for every Californian fighting for freedom and equality. Born on this day in 1930, Harvey Milk settled in San Francisco and found a thriving LGBTQ+ community that faced widespread hostility and had no voice in government.

Undaunted, Milk organized his community and extended a hand to others, working with labor and civil rights activists who were all struggling for justice. Milk’s fierce advocacy and skillful coalition-building helped him win a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States and the first openly gay person elected in California.

He stood firm in his belief that freedom and dignity should extend to all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, at great personal risk. Milk paid the ultimate price for his advocacy when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet just a year into his term on the Board of Supervisors. His legacy lives on in laws and policies that protect the LGBTQ+ community and in the hearts of generations of activists.

And so on, but there’s more this alleged “hero.”  As Daniel Flynn explains in Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco, Harvey Milk claimed he was drummed out of the Navy for being homosexual, which wasn’t true. Milk was honorably discharged in 1955 as a lieutenant, junior grade. He cast himself as a victim so people will “feel sorry for me, and then vote for me.”

As Flynn notes, “Milk’s taste in men veered toward boys” and Jack Galen was 16 to Milk’s 33. Harvey Milk outed Bill Sipple, who saved President Ford from an assassin, as a homosexual. On the other hand, “Bill Sipple never outed Harvey Milk as a pederast,” a fully accurate designation. Like many in San Francisco, Harvey Milk was a cheerleader for Jim Jones, of Jonestown fame, who responded with support for Milk’s campaigns. Nothing about Jones emerges in the Oscar-winning Milk, a 2008 film starring Sean Penn.

Like San Francisco mayor George Moscone, Milk fell to a bullet from Dan White, but as Dianne Feinstein explained, “this had nothing to do with anybody’s sexual orientation. It had to do with getting back his [White’s]  position.”

In 2009, the composite character president awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus named a ship the USNS Harvey Milk. In 2019, San Francisco unveiled the $2.4 billion Harvey Milk Terminal, with the exhibit “Harvey Milk: Messenger of Hope.” And now we have “Harvey Milk Day,” along with “Pride Month” in June and “LGBT History Month” in October. By contrast, veterans get only a single day.

How about a full month for WWII veterans, now down from 16 million to about 119,000 at the end of 2023. How about a week for Vietnam veterans, who were widely and unjustly vilified. How about “Chuck Mawhinney Day,” for the U.S. Marine sniper who recently passed away. In 2024 moving forward, it’s all about memory against forgetting.

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