Why understanding Harvey Milk’s legacy matters now

Harvey Milk Inauguration ©1978/2009 Efren Ramirez
Ramirez historical photograph of Harvey Milks inauguration (above) has recently been selected to
be included in the Gay Icons Exhibition at the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in London.


Harvey Milk Inauguration ©1978/2009 Efren Ramirez Ramirez’ historical photograph of Harvey Milk’s inauguration (above) has recently been selected to be included in the “Gay Icons” Exhibition at the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in London.

Natalie Forman, Student Reporter

On Saturday, November 6, 2021, the U.S Navy launched a ship called the USNS Harvey Milk. For some, this might have meant nothing — just another ship named after a deceased political figure. But, if you do know about Harvey Milk, this might have caused you to pause and wonder why a ship was named after someone who was dishonorably discharged from the Navy 70 years ago.

The reason the naming of this ship was such a big deal is that Harvey Milk was dishonorably discharged for being gay. During a time when the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay and lesbian service was only repealed 10 years ago, the naming of the ship symbolizes a major win for gay rights. It also helps cement Harvey Milk’s legacy even more.

But let me backtrack. There is a whole lot more to know about Harvey Milk than his dishonorable (and discriminatory discharge).

Who is Harvey Milk?

For starters, he is someone who propelled the gay liberation movement into the public eye by making his way into the very government that was trying to ignore it. Harvey B. Milk was one of the first gay men on the San Fransico Board of Supervisors, or the legal branch of the California government.

Harvey Milk wasn’t always openly gay nor fighting for their rights. Though, even in the closet, he was doing more for the community than most politicians. He wasn’t out openly until the age of forty.

Harvey was a liberal Jewish man. His Jewish upbringing gave him his drive for helping others. In Harvey Milk Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman, he is quoted as saying, “Jews know they can’t allow other groups to suffer discrimination. If for no other reason than we might be on that list someday.”

Harvey was known for having issues with his identity, and who he was meant to be. About five years before he died, he figured it out. A gay politician trying to change things for the better. Making the world he wished that he grew up in.

What is his legacy?

Harvey had homosexual feelings ever since he could identify the emotions. He challenged the conception that anyone chooses to be gay, stating that people were just born that way. As a gay activist, he focused on trying to push back on anti-gay fundamentalist Christians. Among other people, he fought against Anita Bryant. Who leads her own anti-gay Christian organization.

Harvey dancing on the stage during inaugural party. Photo by Efren Convento Ramirez ©1978/2009 All Rights Rese (Efren C. Ramirez)

Harvey had tried to get elected twice before, succeeding on this third time. He preached that if most of the gay population of America came out, then they would no longer have to hide. They could debunk all the gross rumors about the LGBT community of America. And together, they could create a safer world for gay kids to grow up in.

Harvey knew how unkind the world was. He didn’t want other young gays to have. He wanted an easier world for them to live in. Harvey helped pass a bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation that would prevent people from getting housing, jobs, and employment.

He was only in office for 11 months. And in those 11 months, he achieved making the world a little safer for people like him.

When he had first started his career he had made a set of tapes and had given them to his close friends called “In the case, I am assassinated.” One person responded to him by saying “You’re not Martin Luther, you’re not that important.” Yet, on November 27th, 1978, Harvey was shot three times in the body and twice in the head by his former coworker Dan White.

Why is he important today?

Harvey Milk made the impact of showing that change could be made. It wasn’t some far-off concept for other generations to deal with. It was a concept we could deal with now. It was a concept the community could grasp in their own hands and take charge of. They could lead themselves and others. Harvey Milk spoke for people with no voice. If you even look at the photos of Harvey giving speeches, you can feel the excitement and love from the black and white face of Harvey Milk pouring out messages of finding yourself and taking pride in yourself.