Harvey Milk Biography

Harvey Bernard Milk, America’s first openly gay politician, was a prominent figure in the United States’ gay community and a strong advocate for LGBT civil rights. Originally from New York, Milk relocated to San Francisco during a time when many gay men were migrating to the city. San Francisco’s supportive environment for the gay rights movement inspired Milk to actively engage in local politics. Initially keeping his sexual orientation a secret, Milk eventually came out as gay, recognizing the potential impact he could have as an openly gay politician. Despite facing three unsuccessful attempts at political office, Milk’s historic election as a city supervisor made national headlines, marking the first time an openly gay candidate had been elected. In his role, Milk championed a civil rights bill that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, a significant milestone for the LGBT community. Known for his genuine concern for the people, Milk quickly gained popularity as a politician. Tragically, his life was cut short when he was assassinated after serving just 11 months in office.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Harvey Bernard Milk
  • Died At Age: 48
  • Family:
    • Father: William Milk
    • Mother: Minerva Karns Milk
    • Siblings: Robert Milk
  • Quotes By Harvey Milk
  • Political Leaders
  • Political ideology: Democratic
  • Died on: November 27, 1978
  • Place of death: San Francisco, California, United States
  • Ancestry: Lithuanian American
  • Notable Alumni: University At Albany, SUNY
  • Cause of Death: Assassination
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers
  • Founder/Co-Founder: San Francisco Gay Democratic Club
  • Education: University At Albany, SUNY
  • Awards: 2009 – Presidential Medal of Freedom

Childhood & Early Life

Harvey Milk was born to Jewish parents William Milk and Minerva Karns. His family owned a departmental store. He attended Bay Shore High School and graduated in 1947. While in school, he played football and developed an interest in opera. Despite realizing that he was homosexual, he kept this a secret from his school and college peers. In 1947, he enrolled at New York State College for Teachers and graduated in 1951 with a major in mathematics. He was a friendly and extroverted student who was liked by all.


After serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War and being discharged in 1955, Milk took up a teaching job at George W. Hewlett High School. However, he was dissatisfied with his career and tried his hand at several other jobs, including stints as a stock analyst and a Wall Street investment banker. In 1972, he moved to San Francisco with his partner, Scott Smith, and opened a camera store called Castro Camera. Milk became well-known within his neighborhood for his caring nature and interest in solving people’s problems. This led him to enter politics.

Political Career

Milk ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1973 and 1974, losing both times. However, he gained popularity and public support during these campaigns. In 1977, he finally won a seat on the San Francisco City-County Board, becoming the first openly gay individual to be elected to office in the United States. One of his first actions as a supervisor was to sponsor a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. He encouraged LGBT individuals to come out and participate in political activities, believing that visibility was necessary for the LGBT civil rights movement. Milk also focused on solving other community issues, such as dog excrement on pavements, by working on a city ordinance that required pet owners to clean up after their pets. He was also concerned about the welfare of all sections of society and took steps to promote affordable child care, free public transportation, and the development of a civilian board to oversee the police.

Achievements & Legacy

As a supervisor, Milk passed a gay rights ordinance and defeated the Briggs Initiative, which aimed to ban members of the LGBT community from working in public schools. He became a gay icon and leader of the LGBT civil rights movement, setting a precedent for future gay rights leaders. Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, in 2009 for his contribution to the gay rights movement.

Personal Life

Milk realized he was gay during his adolescence and had been in relationships with several men, including Craig Rodwell, Joe Campbell, and Scott Smith. One of his political opponents, Dan White, who was also a supervisor, opposed Milk’s policies and activities. Tragically, White shot Milk dead on November 27, 1978. Despite his untimely death, Milk became a cultural icon, and his life has been the inspiration for numerous books, plays, and films.

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