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Harvey Milk Day celebrates the life and political accomplishments of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay elected official in the United States. This holiday is primarily celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community, but it also invites community conversation about the path towards equal rights for all.

Who Was Harvey Milk?

In the 1970s, Harvey Milk — alongside other notable advocates — pushed San Francisco and the state of California closer to full LGBTQ+ inclusion and equal civil rights for LGBTQ+ people. After serving for several years as the unofficial “Mayor of Castro Street,” Milk decided to take his political career one step further, putting in his bid to serve alongside the city’s Board of Supervisors, a board assessing and approving the budgets of municipalities throughout California. While his initial bid in 1972 ended in defeat, Milk tried again and secured his position in 1977.

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While holding this office, Milk tackled the issue of LGBTQ+ equality throughout California. He explicitly opposed the Briggs Initiative and several other anti-gay bills designed to limit the community’s ability to hold land, operate businesses, and work in certain industries. What’s more, Milk stood as a symbol of progress and courage. As an openly-gay elected official, Milk brought the face of the LGBTQ+ community into the light, indicating in his policy and his advocacy that the LGBTQ+ community was – and is – deserving of recognition and fair treatment across the United States. So too did his deliberate care, first on Castro Street and then at a state level, encourage diverse groups to come together for the sake of social progress.

Unfortunately, Milk’s political career was short-lived. Rival city supervisor, Dan White, assassinated Milk in 1978, eleven months after Milk was elected to public office. 

How Does Harvey Milk Day Embody LGBTQ+ Outreach?

Milk’s career as the first openly-gay elected officialin the United States was not celebrated at the federal level until the late 2000s. Only after the release of the biographical film, Milk, did California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger establish Harvey Milk’s birthday — May 22 — as a day of celebration throughout the state. While the day does not qualify as a public holiday, California law recognizes Milk’s birthday as a Day of Special Significance.

Harvey Milk Day serves two purposes as a Day of Special Significance. When celebrated throughout the United States, it draws attention to the long road that LGBTQ+ individuals have tread in order to achieve their rights. And, it emphasizes the long road that remains.

How Can You Celebrate Harvey Milk Day?

Both members of the LGBTQ+ communities and straight allies are encouraged to celebrate Harvey Milk Day on May 22 each year. By celebrating Harvey Milk’s contributions to American politics, people facing the challenges of the modern age can take heart in the struggle – and accomplishments – of all of those who came before them.

There are several different ways to celebrate Harvey Milk Day. Your local GSA branch may host a movie night showing one of the many Harvey Milk biographies, including The Times of Harvey Milk, Castro, or Milk. Alternatively, pride centers and gay bars often offer interactive workshops on Milk’s contributions to modern politics.

Individually, you can share stories of Milk’s outreach with your colleagues or your peers. Poster campaigns and celebratory articles all help draw awareness not only to Milk’s success but also to the challenges and obstacles that today’s LGBTQ+ community members may face.

When we celebrate Harvey Milk’s political success and once-revolutionary views, we offer respect and support to the communities that need it most. Come May 22nd, celebrate Harvey Milk’s accomplishments and the LGBTQ+ community’s path towards equity and equality. As part of your efforts toward a more inclusive culture, Harvey Milk Day is just one way to create a workplace where everyone feels safe bringing their full, authentic self to work.

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Celia Daniels graduated from the University of Toledo with an M.A. in English Language and Literature. Nowadays she lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she works as a content writer.

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