By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
On November 18, 1978, Harvey Milk made a recording to be played in the event of his assassination. Like Abraham Lincoln, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. before him, the gay civil rights leader and champion of equality and justice, knew what history held in store. What Harvey Milk could not have known was his recording would be played just nine days later, when a white, Christian, anti-gay, straight, gunman would murderer him and San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone in their City Hall offices on November 27, 1978.
Harvey Milk had been making headlines long before his assassination. He was the first openly gay man elected to public office; but more than that, he won that election a mere eight years after the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. His message of inclusion, the value of the marginalized, which he built his representative coalition around, also help elect the first Asian American man and African American woman to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. In his short eleven months in office, he spearheaded the defeat of California’s “Brigg’s Initiative” which would have prohibited gays and lesbians from teaching in schools.
While it is impossible to imagine what Harvey Milk might have gone on to achieve had he not been killed 40 years ago today, it’s plain to see the lasting impact his living legacy has had on the LGBT Community and America as a whole. He has received countless honors posthumously, including a Naval ship named after him; the first postal stamp recognizing a gay American; and our country’s highest honor given to a civilian, the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Obama in 2009.
But greater than all these combined is the lasting gift that Harvey Milk gave us in his words and wisdom. It is striking in comparison to today’s divisive social and political rhetoric, that Harvey Milk succeeded in bring people together by speaking of hope. He spoke of and to the “us’s” as equal people in our communities, that the marginalized matter. When he said, “My Name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you!” he was recruiting everyone.
Let this not be a somber anniversary remembrance, but instead let us renew ourselves in what we can achieve and become together when we have hope, and more importantly when we give hope to others.
Forty years after after Harvey Milk first gave his iconic “Hope Speech” on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in 1977, gay rights activist Sir Ian McKellen, brought his words to life again like only the legendary actor could.
In 1985, The Times of Harvey Milk, narrated by Harvey Fierstein, became the first gay subject film to win an Academy Award. The stirring documentary focuses on an ordinary man who believed in ordinary values, but made extraordinary accomplishments by giving everyone hope. It’s colorfully told by the vibrant and dedicated people who were a part of the movement and is profoundly moving.
This is the audio recording Harvey Milk made to be played in the event of his assassination.