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Celebrating Harvey Milk Day: Why It Matters

What is Harvey Milk Day?

Harvey Milk Day, observed on May 22 each year, is a special commemoration honing the life and accomplishments of Harvey Milk, an iconic LGBTQ+ activist and politician. As the first openly gay elected official in California, Milk's birthday is significant in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and fostering equality and inclusivity.

Furthermore, Milk was a master of civic engagement, inspiring people to actively participate in local issues, big and small, with his infectious and optimistic personality. As a Supervisor, Milk passionately addressed gaps in city hall policies and fearlessly stood up for the needs of his residents.

Related Read: May - Awareness Months, Days & Observances

Who is Harvey Milk?

harvey milk
Photo by Daniel Nicoletta on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Harvey Milk's life was a pioneering LGBTQ+ activist, making history as the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States3. Born on May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, New York, he grew up with strong values of compassion and understanding [6]. Harvey was known as an excellent and brilliant student from an early age. 

He studied Math and History at the State University of New York and contributed to their weekly student newspaper column. They discussed various issues and reflections from the recently ended World War II. After graduating, he enlisted in the US Navy. He further worked as a public school teacher, stock analyst, and production associate for Broadway Musicals. 

However, it was in 1972 that he became deeply connected to the LGBTQ+ community. He opened a camera store on Castro Street, San Francisco, which later became a vibrant center for political activism and self-expression. It also served as a gathering place for the gay community. 

Furthermore, Milk and other business owners founded the Castro Village Association (which is composed of predominantly LGBT businesses). This gave way to his political career. In 1977, Harvey Milk served as a leader in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He actively fought for a bill that aimed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation1.

Tragically, his life was cut short when he, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated on November 27, 1978, by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors.

Establishment of Harvey Milk Day

The California Legislature and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger played a significant role in establishing Harvey Milk Day in California. On October 11, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the bill that designated May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in California. The California Legislature, led by State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, introduced the bill to honor the legacy of Harvey Milk.

In 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger initially vetoed the legislation, but he was eventually persuaded to reverse his position thanks to a series of petitions led by gay rights activist Daren I. Ball. This observance was proclaimed and signed into law on the federal level by then-President Barack Obama. On October 11, 2009, President Obama officially designated May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in the United States.

Why Is Harvey Milk Day Important?

why is harvey milk day important
Photo by Teddy O on Unsplash

Harvey Milk's work as one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S. is a trailblazing example of courage and determination. Here are some essential facts about the celebration:

  • Despite significant progress in LGBTQ+ rights, 29 U.S. states still lack comprehensive legal protection for LGBTQ+ individuals. This sobering fact underscores the ongoing struggle against discrimination and the need for continued advocacy.
  • LGBTQ+ youth face a double-edged sword of harassment and discrimination, leading to higher rates of bullying and attempted suicide. The event highlights the urgency to create safer environments and support vulnerable youth.
  • Unfortunately, hate crimes are still prevalent in our society. Shockingly, statistics show that one out of every ten American citizens have experienced discrimination in housing or employment due to their sexual orientation2. Furthermore, gay men are at a higher risk of experiencing violence and property crimes than lesbians or bisexuals.
  • Harvey Milk Day is a call to action to increase visibility and representation for LGBTQ+ individuals in politics, law, and public life. The day strives for a more diverse and inclusive society by addressing the underrepresentation in elected positions.
  • This annual event transcends borders and holds global significance. It calls for unity against LGBTQ+ persecution and aims to stop discrimination and inequality worldwide. This international effort reminds us that progress for LGBTQ+ rights is a collective endeavor.

Efforts and Initiatives

Harvey Milk's legacy for equality lives on through the impactful work of the Harvey Milk Foundation. The “Hope” speech was the speech Harvey Milk gave when he announced his candidacy, and he later issued an expanded version at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco in 1978. It financially supports grassroots LGBTQ+ organizations worldwide, illuminating the path to acceptance and equality.

Furthermore, Harvey Milk Day has vibrant commemorative public school activities nationwide. These engagements serve a dual purpose. First, it honors the pioneering spirit of Harvey Milk. And second, it ignites young hearts to become future equality fighters.

The Harvey Milk High School in New York City is not just an educational institution. For many at-risk youth, it is a haven where they feel accepted, valued, and empowered.

Furthermore, the San Francisco Chronicle, a prominent newspaper based in San Francisco, California, further highlights its significance. The newspaper often features articles about Harvey Milk, his life, and his impact on San Francisco and the LGBTQ+ community.

How to Get Involved and Support Harvey Milk Day

how to get involved
Photo by Brian Kyed on Unsplash

You can celebrate Harvey Milk Day by participating in events in your local community, such as parades, rallies, and commemorative gatherings. Your presence at these gatherings is crucial as it shows solidarity, contributing to a more inclusive society.

Don't stop at just attending events; volunteer with LGBTQ+ organizations. They fight for equality, support community members, and provide essential resources. Whether assisting with paperwork, planning events, or joining outreach programs, your efforts will have a positive impact.

Remember the power of knowledge. Take the time to learn about Harvey Milk's death by reading his speeches, watching documentaries, and exploring online resources. Share what you know with others using your social media platforms. Use online tools to start conversations and inspire your friends to join the cause.

Related Read: LGBT+ History Month


As the pages of history come alive on Harvey Milk Day, we celebrate not just a person but a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ+ community. Like ripples in a pond, our collective efforts create waves of progress, shaping a more inclusive world.

Let us honor Harvey Milk's memory by being the champions of acceptance, ensuring that his legacy lives on through our commitment to a more equal future. Harvey Milk Day is not just a remembrance; it's a powerful call to create lasting change in our communities and beyond.

Harvey Milk Day FAQs

1. What is Harvey Milk Day?

It is an annual observance, every May 22nd, that commemorates the life and achievements of Harvey Milk, a prominent gay rights activist and politician.

2. Why is Harvey Milk important?

Harvey Milk played a crucial role in advancing LGBTQ+ rights and was the first openly gay official in California. His activism and advocacy continue to inspire and empower the LGBTQ+ community.

3. How can I participate in Harvey Milk Day?

You can participate by attending local events, learning more about his life and contributions, sharing his story on social media, and supporting LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives.

4. What impact did Harvey Milk have on LGBTQ+ rights?

Harvey Milk's activism and political career helped to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and fight against discrimination. His work paved the way for significant advancements in the rights and visibility of the community.


Weststrate, N. M., & McLean, K. C. (2022). “You gotta give them hope”: A structural psychobiography of Harvey Milk (1930–1978). Journal of Personality, 91(1), 105–119.


Herek, G. M. (2008). Hate Crimes and Stigma-Related Experiences among Sexual Minority


Faderman, L. (2019). Harvey Milk. In Yale University Press eBooks.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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