Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harvey Milk Day celebrates equality

Harvey Milk of San Francisco
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Copyright 1987
Courtesy of

Equality for all is celebrated today (May 22) on Harvey Milk Day, the birthday of LGBT rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

As America’s first openly gay man elected to public office*, Milk was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law in San Francisco before his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978. He has been called a martyr for LGBT rights -- and for all human rights.

Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.

Harvey Milk Day March,
by Show Me No Hate
St. Louis, MO
Harvey Milk Day events are being planned all across America, especially in California, where it became an official state holiday in 2009. Milk is the only openly gay person in the United States to receive such a distinction.

The Harvey Milk Day Facebook page offers constant updates. A calendar of events and other resources are available at, the official home of Harvey Milk Day.  Their materials emphasize that Milk was more than an LGBT rights activist, but a “social and political pioneer” who ”fought for the rights and equality of all” and inspires “disenfranchised communities.”

Harvey Milk Day events often include showing one of the two Oscar-winning movies about his life, the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) or the biographical drama “Milk” (2008), which stars Sean Penn as Milk. Beautiful posters from a couple of events are posted here.

Milk has received many honors for his visionary courage and commitment to equality. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

Milk became the public face of the GLBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his assassination.
Harvey Milk Day
by Equality Action Now
Sacramento, CA

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of queer people living openly is also coming true.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that's what this is all about. It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for LGBT rights are more alive than ever.

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz (pictured above) was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.

The Harvey Milk icon sparked a church controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for this and nine other controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 were displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The icon has also been criticized for portraying Milk, a secular Jew, in a iconographic style rooted in Christian tradition. “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!” He is honored in the interfaith LGBTQ Saints series here as a martyr who died in the struggle for LGBT rights.

[*Note: When Milk was elected, two gay politicians were already in office: lesbian Massachusetts State Representative Elaine Noble and Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear, who came out after he won re-election.]

Icons of Harvey Milk and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Rogi said...

Milk was a vocal atheist! How dare you disrespect that with such an image? Harvey Milk on Religion

Kittredge Cherry said...

Actually I agree with Harvey Milk’s quote at the link’s you provided, Rogi:

“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”

But for me, just because people have misunderstood and perverted God’s message doesn’t mean that there is no God.

I am trying to honor Harvey Milk with this image, not to turn him into a god. His life is an inspiration to many on a spiritual level as well as a practical political level.