We take a moment to celebrates the achievements of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who was assassinated in 1978.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in a major city in the US, serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1977-1978. His life and political career embody the rise of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement.
While in office, Milk worked to pass a gay rights ordinance and defeat Proposition 6, commonly known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Milk encouraged LGBT people to be visible in society and believed in achieving social equality.
Milk was assassinated in 1978 by Dan White, a former colleague on the Board of Supervisors whose politics often clashed with Milk’s. On October 11, 2009, Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger established Harvey Milk Day to be held as a significant observance on May 22, which is Milk’s birthday. Harvey Milk Day is marked as a special day of significance in schools across the state.
Dallas S. Drake – first openly gay firefighter (Fire Motor Operator) in 1989 in the upper Midwest (Burnsville Fire Department, Burnsville, Minnesota).
Matthew Shepard was taken from this world to soon. His journey will never be forgotten. On the date of his passing we honer him and others who have been taken from us.
Matthew Wayne Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998) was an American student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie on the night of October 6, 1998. He was taken by rescuers to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died six days later from severe head injuries.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were arrested shortly after the attack and charged with first-degree murder following Shepard’s death. Significant media coverage was given to the killing and to what role Shepard’s sexual orientation played as a motive in the commission of the crime. The prosecutor argued that McKinney’s murder of Shepard was premeditated and driven by greed. McKinney’s defense counsel countered that he had intended only to rob Shepard but had killed him in a rage when Shepard made a sexual advance toward him. McKinney’s girlfriend told police that he had been motivated by anti-gay sentiment but later recanted her statement, saying that she had lied because she thought it would help him. Both McKinney and Henderson were convicted of the murder, and each received two consecutive life sentences.
Shepard’s murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels. In October 2009, the United States Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (commonly the “Matthew Shepard Act” or “Shepard/Byrd Act” for short), and on October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law. Following her son’s murder, Judy Shepard became a prominent LGBT rights activist and established the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Shepard’s death inspired films, novels, plays, songs, and other works.
In 1985 Terry Sweeney became Saturday Night Live‘s first openly gay male cast member; Sweeney was “out” prior to being hired as a cast member.
Randy Shilts was hired in 1981 as a national correspondent by the San Francisco Chronicle, becoming “the first openly gay reporter with a gay ‘beat’ in the American mainstream press.”
The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was held in Washington, D.C. on October 14, 1979.
The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on October 14, 1979. The first such march on Washington, it drew between 75,000 and 125,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.
1979 Stephen Lachs – first openly gay judge appointed in the United States (Los Angeles County Superior Court)
Harvey Milk – 1978 was the first openly gay or lesbian candidate elected to political office in California; seventh openly gay/lesbian elected official nationally (third man to be openly gay at time of his election)
The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band was founded by Jon Reed Sims in 1978 as the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corp. Upon its founding in 1978, it became the first openly gay musical group in the world.
The TV show Soap in 1977 becomes the first sitcom to feature an openly gay character, Jodie Dallas played by Billy Crystal. Subsequently, Crystal becomes the first actor to play an openly gay character on a primetime TV Show.