Features Magazine Volume 69, Issue 3

Harvey Milk: Forgotten Boundary Breaker?

Las Lomas’ history teachers and books try to cover all topics, including historical figures of different races, religions, and sexualities. In the Twenty First Century, most students are unaware of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the state of California and one of the first openly gay officials elected nationwide. He was elected into San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977, and his authenticity and openness “gave never before experienced hope to LGBT people…when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination,” according to the Milk Foundation’s website. With homosexuality still considered an illness among most psychologists at the time, Milk’s election broke boundaries in politics for the LGBT+ community, but the victory was short-lived when he was shot and killed only ten months into office. 

Known as the “Mayor of the Castro,” Milk was committed to serving everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender. His ambitious reform agenda included creating a daycare service for working mothers, converting old military facilities to low-cost housing, and reforming the tax code to attract more industry to the city. He also helped build alliances among diverse business groups–women, the disabled, asian, hispanic, and black communities–to create a more equal workspace for everyone and stop professional biases. Milk’s main battle was Proposition 6, which would mandate the firing of gay teachers in public schools. With strong opposition from Milk and others, this proposition was defeated at a time when other discriminatory laws against the LGBT+ community were being successfully passed statewide. Milk thought that if the LGBT+ community chose to be open and proud, the people around them would become more understanding and supportive of the LGBT+ community. In one of his eloquent speeches, Milk said, “…we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets… We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions… for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it.” 

The LGBT+ community has battled with erasure and being overlooked for millenia, including today, in the progressive 21st Century. Seniors Mia Portner and Saramia Leonard both believe that LGBT+ people have been erased from history. Mia Portner says, “since gay people are everywhere… there has to be millions and millions of people that were left out, closeted, or erased from things.” Both seniors vouch for more LGBT+ people to be put into our history books, and taught as part of the curriculum. Fortunately, the history books at Las Lomas do include Harvey Milk, but is one boundary-breaking gay person enough to represent the community as a whole? History teacher Mr. Speir says, “Harvey Milk is certainly an inspirational historical figure and… all communities should be able to see themselves reflected in the history taught in school.”