Today, May 22, California celebrates Harvey Milk Day in honor of the slain San Francisco supervisor who was one of the first gay elected officials in the United States.
Milk was assassinated by former San Francisco supervisor Dan White in 1978. A few months before his death, he gave a stirring speech at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco. In it, Milk implores gay Americans to come out of the closet as a way to end homophobia and anti-gay politics.
His remarks, which can be found in Randy Shilts' important biography about Milk titled The Mayor of Castro Street, are still relevant today as they were nearly 34 years ago…
“Well, I'm tired of the lies of the Anita Bryants and the John Briggs,” Milk said to a crowd of more than 250,000 people, referring to the anti-gay advocates:
I'm tired of their myths. I'm tired of their distortions. I'm speaking out about it.
Gay brothers and sisters, what are you going to do about it? 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. I know that is hard and will upset them but think of how they will upset you in the voting booth.
Come out to your friends… if they 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.
For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade, [Florida,] to Eugene, [Oregon].
If Briggs wins he will not stop. They never do. Like all mad people, they are forced to go on, to prove they were right!
There will be no safe 'closet' for any gay person.
So break out of yours today — tear the damn thing down once and for all!
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.