In Recognition of San Francisco's Memorial to Harvey Milk

In Recognition of San Francisco's Memorial to Harvey Milk
by Jackie Speier




Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ms. SPEIER. Madam Speaker, today marks the birthday of a civil rights icon and hero to millions of men and women, not just in San Francisco where he made his strongest impact, but all across the globe.

Seventy-eight years ago, Harvey Milk was born in New York. After college at Albany State College, he enlisted in the United States Navy, but was dishonorably discharged when authorities discovered that he was gay.

In 1970, Harvey landed in San Francisco, the city that would become his home and legacy. He opened a business there and began attending the Board of Supervisors meetings, using his bigger-than-life persona to introduce the public and San Francisco's elected officials to the plights of gays and lesbians. Today, there are many such voices, but Harvey Milk was a trailblazer.

When he appeared on the scene, even in San Francisco, arguably the most tolerant city in our Nation, it wasn't safe or accepted to be outspoken on issues facing lesbians and gays. Even politicians within the community were silent, both about their lives and the issues that affected them. But Harvey wasn't one to be quieted or closeted. He told anyone who would listen--and more importantly, forced those who wouldn't--about the injustices, inequities and outright discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians. His voice resonated for anyone labeled "different" or outside the mainstream.

In 1977, after three unsuccessful attempts for elected office, Harvey Milk won a hard fought race and was elected to the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. Notably, he became the first openly-gay elected official in the United States. Tragically, Harvey's tenure in office was cut short.

On November 27, 1978, just weeks after working with former Governor Ronald Reagan to defeat the Briggs Initiative that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools, Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco City Hall, along with Mayor George Moscone, by former Supervisor Dan White.

The episode and ensuing trial was one of San Francisco's darkest times. Harvey Milk's assassination, like that of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, provided a foundation upon which people of divergent views could come together. Today, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people have more than just one seat at the table and are represented by a wide range of officeholders at every level of government.

If Harvey Milk were alive today, I believe he would be as proud of his legacy as we are of him. I also believe he would still be fighting for the dispossessed and voiceless everywhere.

Madam Speaker, today the City of San Francisco unveils the Harvey Milk City Hall Memorial. I rise to commend the city for honoring this civil rights pioneer, devoted community leader, inspiration to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and truly great American.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).