Remembering Harvey Milk, who was born today in Woodmere, Long Island, NY in 1930, in the age of Pete Buttigieg brings his legacy new meaning and relevancy.
It’s Wednesday, May 22. It’s also Harvey Milk Day in California, as designated by the state Legislature in 2009.
Milk was California’s first openly gay elected official and one of the first openly gay men to hold elected office in the United States.
He would have turned 89 today, had he not been assassinated alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978. Milk’s election as a San Francisco supervisor and his assassination less than a year into his term were era-defining moments that shaped the state and the gay rights movement nationally.
Growing up in Simi Valley in the 1980s, Stephen Torres felt as if he had always sort of been aware of Harvey Milk. It was looming secondhand history, muddled through media and overheard conversations.
Torres knew that “something terrible had happened.” He also knew that discussion of that terrible thing was often paired with ugly laughter, “the ubiquitous gay jokes that went along with Harvey Milk.”
For a young gay kid in a conservative community, the jokes were “like a sting of recognition, that they were talking about me too.” He also knew “something good” — that a movie had been made about Milk and that it had won an Academy Award.
When Torres came out as a teenager, one of the first things he wanted to do was see that movie. The Simi Valley Blockbuster didn’t stock “The Times of Harvey Milk,” so Torres borrowed his mother’s old Volvo station wagon to rent the 1984 film in Thousand Oaks.
“When I saw it, I just wept,” he remembered. It was 1997 and Torres was newly 18. “It was crazy to me to see this story that had taken place in California and at a time that was so familiar to me from my early childhood. Just the power of his story and the movement.”
Eventually, Torres would move to San Francisco and become an activist himself. He now sits on the board of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which is hosting a Harvey Milk Day block party on Castro Street tonight.
“People in my generation really wanted to know this history. Not just about Harvey, but about the gay movement of the ’70s,” Torres said.