Harvey Milk Day

Harvey Milk Day is a holiday that celebrates the life and achievements of Harvey Milk—a gay rights activist and the first openly gay official in the United States, who was assassinated in the late 1970s. While it is observed all over the United States by many different groups, it is recognized by the state of California as a day of special significance for public schools.

Harvey Milk Biography

Born on May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, New York, Harvey Milk was raised in a middle-class Jewish family. He was one of two boys born to William and Minerva Milk and became a well-liked student at Bay Shore High School, who not only played football but also sang in the opera. When he wasn’t in school or participating in his after-school activities, Harvey worked at his family’s department store: Milk’s.

In 1951, he graduated from New York State College for Teachers and joined the United States Navy. During the Korean War, he served as a diving instructor at a base located in San Diego, California, until his discharge in 1955. After leaving the U.S. Navy, he moved to New York City and worked a number of unremarkable jobs. He worked as a public school teacher, a production associate for some Broadway musicals, and a Wall Street investment banker. Eventually, he grew weary of the finance district and decided to spend time in Greenwich Village.

In 1972, he became bored with New York and decided to move across the country to San Francisco, California. Once he arrived in California, he opened a camera shop on Castro Street called Castro Camera. In his spare time, he worked with the emerging gay rights groups at the time, and his life began to evolve. Castro Camera became a sort of community center. This is when Harvey Milk really began to become a leader and a gay rights activist.

In 1973, Harvey Milk declared he was going to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost the election, but it didn’t prevent him from trying to run for public office again. In 1975, he ran again for the same seat and lost again—although this time his loss was by a much slimmer margin. However, he gained valuable experience from his political run and had become somewhat of a political force in the gay community.

In 1977, Harvey Milk ran again, and this time, he won a seat on the San Francisco City-County Board. On January 9, 1978, he was inaugurated and became not only San Francisco’s first openly gay officer but also the first openly gay individual to be elected to public office in the U.S.

Harvey Milk’s Assassination

Supervisor Dan White, who was elected to the San Francisco City-County Board in 1977, became troubled because he saw the greater tolerance towards homosexuality as a breakdown in what he considered to be traditional family values. As a result, he spent quite a bit of time clashing with Harvey Milk—who was decidedly more liberal—over policy issues. This continued to escalate until Dan White resigned from the board—merely one year after his election. At the time, Mr. White cited that his salary was too low to support his family.

Encouraged by the support he received in the police department, Dan White changed his mind about quitting the board and asked Mayor Moscone to reappoint him to his position. However, the mayor declined and was leaning towards appointing a more liberal member to the board. This was devastating to Dan White, who felt that people like the mayor and Harvey Milk were ruining his city.

So Dan White decided to do something about it. On November 27, 1978, he entered City Hall with a .38 revolver through a basement window that had been left open. Mr. White first headed to the mayor’s office and convinced Moscone to speak with him in a private room. White then asked the mayor for his job back, and when Moscone refused, he shot him four times—twice in the chest and twice in the head. Dan White then went down the hall and shot Harvey Milk five times—twice in the chest, once in the back, and twice in the head. Mr. White then turned himself in to the police.

Harvey Milk Commemorations

While Harvey Milk Day is not a public holiday in the United States, many people still use the day to remember the work done by Mr. Milk. In California, many public schools will do commemorative projects in memory of Harvey Milk on this day and also take part in projects to learn more about equal rights.

Where is it celebrated?
United States (Local observance) - California
When is it?
This year (2024)
May 22 Wednesday
Next year (2025)
May 22 Thursday
Last year (2023)
May 22 Monday