May 22 is Harvey Milk Day. Organized by the Harvey Milk Foundation, and officially marked by the city of San Francisco since 2009, the day commemorates the birthday of the famed gay rights activist and lawmaker, who was assassinated November 27, 1978.
Born in 1930, Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California. Born in New York state, Milk joined the US Navy as a young man. He then went into the financial services sector, but relocated to San Francisco in the early 1970s, after experiencing its free-love, counter-culture atmosphere.
He opened a camera store on Castro Street and began to become politically active. He was elected as a city supervisor in November 1977; His swearing-in made national headlines.
A year later, in November 1978, a disgruntled former supervisor, Dan White, turned up at City Hall with a gun and assassinated both Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
Milk’s like story was bought to the screen in 2008 in the movie, Milk. With a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, it starred Sean Penn as Harvey Milk (both men won Oscars for their contribution to the movie). It’s as good a place to start as any for an insight into Milk’s life, death and legacy.
Over the years, San Francisco has commemorated Milk in several ways. Below are a few ways to remember him today.
You’ll find this mural on The Cafe at 18th and Castro – above Subway and next to the Chevron Station. It was unveiled in 2018. Painted by Paraguayan artist Oz Montania, the artwork was sponsored by Stolichnaya vodka, who also emblazoned it on a limited-edition vodka bottle. Proceeds from the sale of the vodka went to the Harvey Milk Foundation.
Harvey Milk stamp mural
A relatively new addition, this artwork by artist Jazz Fuller appeared in 2020 outside P.O. Plus (584 Castro). It features an image of Milk on a postage stamp, along with a quote from him: “Hope is never silent.” The mural appeared as part of a project by local artists to add color and decoration to storefronts during the pandemic.
Harvey Milk Plaza
The Castro Muni Metro station was opened in 1980, and its associated transit plaza was renamed in 1985. You can’t miss it: A giant rainbow flag flies above it and can be seen from far and wide. The plaza is due to undergo major redesign and redevelopment work over the coming years but its name will remain the same.
Harvey Milk plaque
The camera store Harvey Milk ran in the 1970s was at 575 Castro Street. For the last 16 years, the store, which features a mural of Milk on the inside, was run by LGBTQ nonprofit HRC as a fundraising merchandise store. However, HRC departed in April 2021 after failing to renegotiate its lease with the landlord.
The owners have not indicated what will now happen to the store, with some local activists worried as to whether its history will be taken into account. For the time being, evidence of Milk’s occupancy can be found outside courtesy of a brass plaque to his memory, which covers Milk’s ashes.
Harvey Milk Terminal
In 2019, San Francisco Airport reopened its refurbished Terminal 1 and renamed it the Harvey Milk Terminal 1. It handles domestic flights from within the US. In March 2020, the terminal unveiled a permanent display highlighting images from Milk’s life.
Earlier this year, the Airport Commission announced it was commissioning a three-story mural from artists Craig Calderwood celebrating the legacy of Harvey Milk. It will be located in Terminal 1’s most trafficked intersection: the escalator atrium where passengers may access the AirTrain, Arrivals/Departures, and Baggage Claim/Ground Transportation. Below is an artist’s rendering of what it will look like. It’s not expected to be completed until mid-2024 at the earliest.
Away from his home city, the US Navy has renamed a ship after Milk, and he’s been the subject of biographies, a children’s book, and even a musical. In 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay rights movement. In 2014, the US Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Milk.