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social sciences

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Milk, Harvey (1930-1978)  
 
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[The most recent film biography, Gus Van Sant's Milk (2008), a large-budget feature, brings Milk to mainstream audiences. Starring Sean Penn in a riveting, Oscar-winning performance in the title role, the film, based on Dustin Lance Black's Academy Award-winning original screenplay, tells Milk's story both authentically and movingly. Without varnishing Milk's sometimes messy private life, Van Sant presents him as an engaging and courageous individual who, with the aid of young activists such as Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg, helped transform the gay rights movement, especially through his insistence on openness and honesty.

In 2008, a statue of Milk was unveiled at San Francisco's City Hall.

Sponsor Message.

On August 12, 2009, President Obama awarded Milk a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. In presenting the medal to Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk, who is also gay, Obama remarked: "For much of his early life, he had silenced himself. In the prime of his life, he was silenced by the act of another. But in the brief time in which he spoke--and ran, and led--his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people. He would become, after several attempts, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. And his message of hope--hope unashamed, hope unafraid--could not ever be silenced. It was Harvey who said it best: 'You gotta give 'em hope.'"

A movement to commemorate Milk's birthday, May 22, as "Harvey Milk Day" in California finally achieved success after years of lobbying. The bill establishing "Harvey Milk Day" passed the legislature in 2008, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger on the grounds that Milk was a "local" figure rather than one of state-wide significance.

Despite this setback, supporters of the holiday persisted, seeing it as a means of recognizing the slain leader's contributions to gay rights in California. The legislature again passed the bill in 2009.

This time, however, conditions were different. Schwarznegger's contention that Milk was only a figure of local significance had been rendered untenable by the success of Gus van Sant's film biography, the bestowal of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Milk's induction into the California Hall of Fame. The governor signed the bill on October 12, 2009, the day after the National Equality March in Washington, D. C.

The first celebrations of "Harvey Milk Day" occurred on May 22, 2010.]

Susan Stryker

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   Related Entries
  
social sciences >> Overview:  Boycotts

Boycotts, the refusal to patronize companies or institutions, have in recent decades been organized by glbtq rights advocates to protest discriminatory practices and policies.

arts >> Overview:  Documentary Film

The queer community has used documentary film to resurrect historical memory and to permit the marginalized to bear witness, as well as to build an image base that reflects our diversity and counters distorted representations.

social sciences >> Overview:  Elected Officials

In the United States, glbtq candidates have achieved some significant successes at the ballot box in the last three decades, running for and winning local, state, and national elections.

arts >> Overview:  Film

Since cinema began, Hollywood has been fascinated with finding ways of representing homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Rights Movement, U. S.

The U.S. gay rights movement has made significant progress toward achieving equality for glbtq Americans, and in the process has become more inclusive and diverse, but much remains to be done.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gaybashing

Violence perpetrated against people thought by their attackers to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered occurs with disturbing frequency in the United States and other countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Marches on Washington

Marches on Washington in support of the rights of glbtq people have been a significant part of the modern movement for equality.

arts >> Overview:  Opera

Opera, an eclectic synthesis of voice, drama, music, costume, visual arts and spectacle, has played an integral role in queer culture since its development in seventeenth century Venice.

social sciences >> Overview:  Organized Labor

Early in the gay rights movement activists challenged organized labor to broaden its struggle against discrimination to include sexual identity; consequently labor unions became some of the first mainstream organizations to call for equal rights.

social sciences >> Overview:  Parades and Marches

Both parades and marches have served to render the glbtq community visible; whereas marches typically attempt to effect political change, parades and pride events affirm identity and community.

social sciences >> Overview:  San Francisco

San Francisco has enjoyed a reputation as a "gay mecca" since World War II.

social sciences >> Overview:  Teachers

Historically, glbtq teachers have faced all manner of social pressures, including open hostiliy and expectations that they hide their sexuality; now, however, teacher groups and individuals are working to improve the climate for glbtq teachers.

arts >> Barton, Crawford

Photographer Crawford Barton captured the blossoming of an openly gay culture in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s.

arts >> Black, Dustin Lance

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has quickly established himself as both an accomplished filmmaker and a committed activist.

social sciences >> Bryant, Anita

Former beauty queen, popular singer, and orange juice pitchwoman, Anita Bryant became the poster-girl for homophobia in the late 1970s; her name continues to be a byword for bigotry.

arts >> Epstein, Rob

Writer, director, and producer Rob Epstein is one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of his generation, having worked on a number of landmark gay-themed films.

social sciences >> Goodstein, David

Publisher David Goodstein transformed The Advocate into the leading American gay newsmagazine.

social sciences >> Griffin, Chad

Chad Griffin co-founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights to sponsor a legal challenge to Proposition 8; in June 2012, he assumed the helm of the Human Rights Campaign.

social sciences >> Jones, Cleve

Activist Cleve Jones is best known as the originator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, but his life as a gay man has always been firmly interwoven with his life as a political organizer.

social sciences >> The Legacy Walk (Chicago)

The Legacy Walk in Chicago is an outdoor history museum that reclaims and celebrates glbtq contributions to world history and culture.

literature >> Newman, Lesléa

Prolific Jewish femme lesbian-feminist writer of poetry, fiction, and children's books, Leslèa Newman draws on her own multiple identities to describe the complex tapestry that results when a variety of identities are woven together.

social sciences >> Noble, Elaine

A dedicated lesbian activist in the early years of the gay liberation movement, Elaine Noble made history as the first openly gay candidate elected to a state-level office when she won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974.

arts >> Reed, Lou

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, bisexual rock musician Lou Reed, pencil-thin, craggy, and dressed in tough leather or androgynous glitz, came to symbolize the rebellious outsider.

literature >> Shilts, Randy

Randy Shilts pioneered as an openly gay journalist in the 1970s and 1980s and was an astute interpreter of the various issues affecting American gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Singer, Bryan

Film director and producer Bryan Singer overturns standard narrative formulae and develops complex characters; he consistently emphasizes the fluidity and ambiguity of identity categories, including those pertaining to gender and sexuality.

arts >> Van Sant, Gus

One of the most idiosyncratic talents to have emerged from the independent cinema over the past decade and a half, Gus Van Sant is not only matter-of-fact about his sexual orientation, but in his work he also represents homosexuality matter-of-factly.

arts >> Warhol, Andy (as filmmaker)

Although Andy Warhol is generally remembered either for a single film--Sleep (1963)--or for works that he did not actually direct, his contribution to gay cinema is incalculable.

arts >> Zadan, Craig (b. 1949), and Neil Meron (b. 1955)

Prolific film, television, and stage producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have created a diverse body of work, including a number of theatrical films and television features with glbtq themes.


    Bibliography
   

Epstein, Andrew J. "Richard Kirk Schmiechen, 7/10/47--4/7/93." www.ajepstein.com/photo%20gallery/photointro2.html.

Harvey Milk/Scott Smith Collection. GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco, California.

Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin's, 1982.

Stryker, Susan, and Jim Van Buskirk. Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1996.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Stryker, Susan  
    Entry Title: Milk, Harvey  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 25, 2012  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/milk_h.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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