Harvey Milk, Civil Rights Advocate
Harvey Milk (1930-1978) led a life that was an example of the social value of coming out. In New York, as
a closeted advertising executive, he was unfulfilled. In San Francisco, as an out and proud gay man, he
became self-confident and significant.
As the first out gay man to win major political office in the United States, he drew the wrath of most of the so
called Christian right. More importantly, he found the respect of decent, patriotic people who knew him and
knew of him. He developed a large and loyal circle of loving friends.
Harvey knew that the best way to end prejudice against queer people is for as many as possible to exit the
closet. Sociologists and psychologists who study prejudice of all types confirm his belief with regard to all
types of people who suffer discrimination on the basis of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
If a straight person knows at least one gay person well, they will become less prejudiced. As that number
increases, their prejudice decreases even further. Of course, they have to know that their
friends, sons, uncles, parents, sisters, etc. are gay before that phenomenon can work.
Coming out is ultimately good for the individual gay person. Furthermore it is essential in order to live
in a just society.
Milk’s life has been portrayed in two award winning films: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, is
an academy award winning documentary. The biopic, Milk, earned many awards, including an Oscar for
Sean Penn, who portrayed the title character. Both powerful films are available on DVD. They are
“required viewing” for all people, especially those who may be struggling with a decision to come out.