May 22nd is Harvey Milk Day, and also happens to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.
Harvey Milk once said, ‘All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.’
He shared many ideas and practices for making the world more safe and supportive for young people, but one of his key messages was about hope:
“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you…And you…And you…Gotta give em hope.”
During the UK Lockdown, it might have been especially difficult to hold onto hope, especially if you are in a home where people do not know about and / or support your LGBTQ+ identity. For many it might have even felt like the whole world is ending, and that things were inescapably bad for you. Even though things look to be changing for the better now, the impact of going through something like that can last a good while.
And so, as a radical act of kindness to yourself, as a key way of taking care of your emotional health and wellbeing, we wanted to share a message of holding onto hope. Hope for change. Hope for a better future. Hope for yourself.
And hope, says Harvey Milk, ‘is never silent.’
To make a positive change in the world, whether after the lockdown, for your emotional health and wellbeing, or for your LGBTQ+ rights, Harvey Milk says that these things we hope for ‘are won only by those who make their voices heard.’
Harvey Milk demonstrated this with his life and work, from his political career to work in activist organisation. Harvey Milk is credited with commissioning Gilbert Baker to create the Pride Flag, which originally had eight stripes and was released in 1978.
Harvey Milk is especially important among historical LGBTQ+ figures who shaped our society into what it is today, such as drag queen, activist, and Stonewall Riot participant Marsha P. Johnson, because he set a precedent. The actions of people like Harvey Milk are what cleared the way for people like Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to run for president in the United States.
Harvey Milk was California’s first openly gay elected official. Milk ran for city supervisor 3 times, finally gaining a seat San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
Milk was born in a small suburb of NYC and was educated throughout New York. He joined the Navy in the Korean war and was discharged in 1955. Milk then proceeded to have a few jobs before turning towards a political career, including teaching, and working as an insurance actuary.
In 1973, Milk opened a camera shop with his partner at that time, Scott Smith, but decided that same year that he would run for city supervisor after getting angry at a state bureaucrat who said he owed $100 in state sales tax, which Milk complained against to the state office for weeks.
When Milk decided to run for city supervisor, he said he had finally reached the point where he knew he ‘had to become involved or shut up.’ He also said, when running for city supervisor, ‘we want gays to represent gays.’
“I have tasted freedom. I will not give up that which I have tasted.”
As a city supervisor, Milk sponsored a bill that made discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. It was passed 11-1. He also fought against Proposition 6, which would have made it illegal for gays and lesbians to work as teachers.
Thanks to Harvey Milk’s work, especially his famous ‘hope’ speech, Proposition 6 lost by over a million votes.
Unfortunately, Milk was assassinated by Dan White in 1978, only eleven months into his tenure as city supervisor. White was a city supervisor like Milk, but assassinated Milk as a way of trying to get his old job back. As a result, Milk became a martyr for many in San Francisco, but also for the LGBTQ+ community around the world.
Since 2007, Harvey Milk Day has been celebrated on 22nd May to recognise the achievements of Harvey Milk.
Today, we are focusing on his message of hope, and how his kindness really did matter. There is hope for the LGBTQ+ community and our emotional health and wellbeing.
And there is hope for you. Be kind to yourself today and give yourself hope.