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May 22: Harvey Milk (and Frank Kameny)

Lawrence Bush
May 22, 2010

harveymilk460Jewdayo is a day late in celebrating the 85th birthday (May 21, 1925) of Frank Kameny, the co-founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC and a pioneering gay rights activist — but we’re right on time in marking the birth of Harvey Milk on this date in 1930. Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was born in Woodmere, New York to Lithuanian Jewish parents; his grandfather was a department store owner who helped found the first synagogue in that town. Milk was a hard-driving community organizer and coalition-builder, described by his campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, as “imagin[ing]a righteous world inside his head and then . . . set[ting] about to create it for real, for all of us.” He began his service on the Board by sponsoring a bill that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which received national attention when it passed. Milk became an icon of the rising gay and lesbian movements when he was shot dead in 1978 by Dan White, a disturbed city supervisor whose acquittal on murder charges (he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter) sparked rioting in the city. In 2009 Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
“If a bullet should go through my head, let that bullet go through every closet door.” — Harvey Milk

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.