A native of Woodmere, New York, Milk graduated from the New York State College for Teachers (now the University at Albany) in 1951, and after a stint in the Navy, returned home to Long Island to become a public school teacher. After several career changes in New York, Milk moved to San Francisco, where he opened a camera store and co-founded the Castro Village Association, an organization of LGBTQ-friendly businesses.
Milk became politically active and won a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors in 1977 – a triumph for the LGBTQ community that made headlines around the country.
Despite his popularity and reform agenda, Milk received death threats daily. He and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978 in City Hall by an embittered former city supervisor. The following year, when their assailant was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison, San Francisco was plagued with disruptive demonstrations and, in turn, retaliatory raids on businesses in the Castro.
Milk recorded a message to be released in the event of his assassination that continues to be a source of inspiration for the LGBTQ community and to the world. His dream was straightforward:
If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.
- Harvey Milk