“Hope will never be silent,” Harvey Milk once said. Milk was anything but silent during the years he advocated for the equal treatment of gay Americans. The New York native became one of the first openly gay people ever elected to public office in the U.S., an election that caused a stir nationwide and solidified him as a symbol of progress in the face of great oppression.
Milk was born in New York but moved to San Francisco in 1972 at the age of 42. He opened a camera shop in the city’s Castro District, a predominantly gay neighborhood, and become something of a local celebrity. Many knew him as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” recognition he used to draw attention to the mistreatment of gay people in the city. He soon became a leader in activist circles, and in 1973, declared his candidacy for a position on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
Milk lost that election, and the one after it, but eventually won a seat in 1977. That was eight years after the Stonewall riots in New York city put a spotlight on homophobia and the social and political challenges faced by gays and lesbians in the U.S.
In many ways, Milk defined the early years of the gay rights movement. He pushed for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexuality and to come out to their friends and family members because he believed visibility was the first step toward acceptance.
He saw the gay community’s search for equal protection under the law as starting with getting gay people into public office. “There is a major difference – and it remains a vital difference – between a friend and a gay person, a friend in office and a gay person in office,” he said. “It’s not enough anymore just to have friends represent us.” Milk was murdered Nov. 27, 1978, by Dan White, a former San Francisco supervisor, who shot and killed Milk in his City Hall office.
Here are 11 Harvey Milk quotes that still ring true today.
1. “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
2. “Hope will never be silent.”
3. “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
4. “All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”
5. “It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.”
6. “Coming out is the most political thing you can do.”
7. “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!”
8. “It takes no compromise to give people their rights ... it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
9. “Let’s make no mistake about this: The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods. If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.”
10. “Gay brothers and sisters … You must come out. Come out to your parents … I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives … come out to your friends … if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors … to your fellow workers … to the people who work where you eat and shop … come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”
11. “Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”