Harvey Milk became the first openly-gay elected official in United States history when he won his campaign for the office of City Supervisor of San Francisco. He had run on a progressive platform that sought free public transportation and legalization of cannabis.
Milk first became a beloved figurehead in San Francisco after moving to an openly gay neighborhood called the Castro in 1972. There, he opened a camera store that would double as a community center and later as his campaign headquarters. Milk’s charisma and theatricality made him a very relatable and trusted figure in the Castro. He went on to create and lead the Castro Village Association, an LGBT business group that was established to protect and nurture current and future LGBT businesses in the Castro, effectively carving out the Castro as a gay community and creating a blueprint for other communities across the nation.
In 1975, Milk ran again for a joint city/county supervisor role and narrowly lost. By this time, he had become recognized as the political spokesperson for San Francisco’s gay community and had befriended San Francisco and California State Senator George Moscone.
Harvey Milk remained persistent in his pursuit of public office. His historic victory came in 1977. One of the most influential contributions Milk made as Supervisor, in relation to cannabis, was the campaign supporting Proposition W. Proposition W urged San Francisco’s District Attorney and Chief of Police to stop arresting and prosecuting those caught growing, cultivating, selling, and using cannabis. The measure passed by 63% demonstrating a serious interest in reform.
Sadly, Milk would not live to see the reach of his influence. Milk was assassinated on November 27th, 1978 along with Mayor Moscone by Dan White, a former City Supervisor and colleague of Milk and Moscone. Though Milk’s life was tragically cut short, his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of LGBTQIA+ folks around the world.