Tuesday, February 10, 2009

LGBT History Month - Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was an American politician, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. He was born in May 1930 in Long Island, New York and had an older brother called Robert. In his early years he was guarded about being gay and stayed in the 'closet' to his family. He qualified as a maths teacher and joined the US Navy as a diver after graduation.

Milk tried to keep his New York romantic life separate from his family and work. Later he thought of moving to Miami to marry a lesbian friend to have ... a front & each would not be in the way of the other. By nature a right of centre conservative, Harvey was heavily influenced by the counterculture of the sixties and grew his hair long. He decided to move to San Francisco, California with his younger partner Scott Smith when he was about 40. Together they opened a camera shop in Castro Street called 'Castro Camera.'

San Francisco had been an epicentre for the hippie culture of the sixties, and LGBT economic power was growing in the seventies. Milk, now openly gay, became a passionate advocate of equal rights, and decided to fight for them politically. By this time there were estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 LGBT people in San Francisco and many of Harvey's opponents were also gay. But in contrast to the I'm a businessman who happens to be gay attitude, Harvey proclaimed we don't want sympathetic liberals, we want gays to represent gays. He realised that radical change was needed to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

There is a biography of Harvey Milk called The Mayor of Castro Street. An acclaimed film of his life, Milk, was released recently.

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