November 27, 1978– After receiving a series of death threats, Harvey Milk wrote:
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
Milk, had become the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, where he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was shot twice in the head by conservative, disgruntled San Francisco City Supervisor Daniel White. White also killed Mayor George Moscone.
White and Milk had enjoyed a friendly relationship at first, but that changed when Milk opposed a zoning bill pushed by White. Then, White became the only supervisor to vote against Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance. It really pissed White off that Milk’s work in the Gay Rights Movement made him a National Icon while White’s career simply sputtered. This sent him into a deep depression.
In early November 1978, White resigned from his Supervisor seat, saying that the salary was not enough to support his family. Mayor Moscone told White that he might consider reappointing him if he chose to return, yet several day later, when White did ask to return to his position, Moscone refused to reappoint him at the request by Milk.
On this day, 39-years ago, White entered San Francisco City Hall through a side door to avoid a weapons search. Moscone’s secretary let White into Moscone’s office, where White shot him four times, the final shots were fired in his head as Moscone lay on the floor.
White then walked down the hall to Milk’s office and asked: “Harvey, can I see you a minute?” Milk followed White into his former office, where White shot him five times, again finishing with two point-blank shots to the head.
Dianne Feinstein, President of the Board of Supervisors, announced the deaths on the steps on City Hall. The city was horrified. That night, 40,000 San Franciscans walked through their city streets and held candlelight vigils.
White confessed to his crime, but was only given five years in prison plus parole. His lawyers argued that junk food caused the depression that, in turn, triggered his murderous rage. That argument, dubbed the Twinkie Defense, was later banned in California.
Milk’s Supervisor seat was given to openly gay politician Harry Britt.
Milk’s death made him a Gay Martyr. One year after Milk’s murder, 100,000 people demonstrated for Gay Rights in Washington DC, with many in the crowd chanting: “Harvey Milk Lives”. Milk was also helped inspire Cleve Jones’ AIDS Quilt. Milk’s life and words, along with his bravery, help spur on the modern Gay Rights Movement.
Now, in the 21st century, many institutions are named after Harvey Milk, including The Harvey Milk High School in NYC. In 2009, the State of California named Milk’s birthday, May 22, Harvey Milk Day. Conservative Christians remain predictably outraged.