"The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, THAT my friends, is true perversion."

- Harvey Milk at a 1978 Gay Freedom Day rally. He was shot and killed later that year by Dan White.

Harvey Bernard Milk was born May 22, 1930 in Woodmere, Long Island, New York. His given name,  was Glimpy Milch. He attended college at Albany State College in upstate New York and graduated in 1951 with a minor in History and Major in Mathematics. He joined the Navy upon graduating and served on the U.S.S. Kittyhawk. He was discharged, after four years in the navy, achieving the rank of chief petty officer. There is dispute as to whether or not the disclosure of his homosexuality led to his discharge - while many say he was dishonorably discharged others say there was no evidence of this.

After the Navy he went back to New York and taught high school history and math on Long Island, then worked in a finance firm on Wall Street as a successful investment analyst. His first foray into the political stage was in 1964 when he campaigned for Barry Goldwater for president.

In the late 60's he began to work with his then boyfriend, Jack McKinley, in the Broadway production of the musical, Hair. This exposure to the late 60's counterculture began to make him take more notice of political issues, the gay community, and began to erode his conservative background. He traveled with the company, eventually taking a job in San Francisco as an analyst until 1969 when his relationship with McKinley ended. He returned to New York.

He returned to the Broadway environment and eventually began seeing Joseph Scott Smith. He and Smith moved to San Fransisco in 1972 where they opened up a "Castro Camera" at 575 Castro Street. At the time the area was more known for cheap housing than the Gay Mecca as it is more commonly referred to now.

He began his political career in 1973 when he ran for the Board of Supervisors. This first attempt was unsuccessful, but he did pull 17,000 votes and this encouraged him to continue.

Milk started his political campaigning as an openly gay man during a time when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness and a "crime against nature" by many. Admitting to it could, depending on the area, entitle one to public humiliation, institutionalization, or up to ten years imprisonment under backward city and state laws. He was out to make a point.

His dealings had taught him that, despite the sanctioned discrimination against gay Americans at the time, political power could come by unifying groups under a fiscal banner. Local merchant organizations wielded political clout in many ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco so he used this as a template for building the CVA (Castro Village Association of local merchants). This united front allowed them to become a force of some influence. His work led to people calling him "the Mayor of Castro Street" - a title that he used abundantly to make himself thought of as an integral part of the political spectrum in San Francisco.

Milk believed strongly that coming out was the responsibility of every gay man and woman. He knew that, by staying in the closet, gay Americans were giving the government and populace the power to keep them there. By showing the public that homosexuals were in all parts of the social structure he knew that, by coming out, homosexuals would cease to be an invisible minority. His thought was not to force people to respect homosexuals but to respect the right to be homosexual. He saw the incongruity of the constitution guaranteeing "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and separation of church and state, while sanctioning discrimination and persecution of Gay Americans - simply because they were gay.

As a politician he went from being a "gay politician" to a politician who just happened to be gay - and that was a huge step for the time.

He ran unsuccessfully again in 1975 and finished seventh. This did not stop his ambitions. Milk's words and political clout among San Francisco associations eventually led to his appointment in 1976 to the Board of Permit Appeals by Mayor George Moscone and made him the first openly gay city commissioner in the United States.

He was fired when he ran for a vacant State Assembly position against the wishes of the state democratic party and lost the election to Art Agnos.

In 1977 he ran again for City supervisor and won.

He is credited for a few ordinances the most notable being the passage of an ordinance protecting people from being fired from their jobs simply for the "crime" of being homosexual. It passed by a vote of 9 to 1 with the one dissenting vote coming from Dan White who fought it vehemently.

In 1978 he also worked successfully to fight California Proposition 6 that would require the state of California to fire any teacher found guilty of "public homosexual conduct". The proposition was rejected.

Milk's conflicts in with fellow supervisor Dan White eventually lead to Dan's resignation from the board of supervisors with the excuse that he could not live on the salary allotted to City Supervisors. The Police Officers association and Board of Realtors encouraged Dan to reconsider his resignation and offered to help him financially. White returned to George Moscone and asked him to re-appoint him to the board. Moscone made it little secret that he did not intend on reappointing White to the position.

On Monday, November 27th, 1978, Dan White loaded a .38 revolver and snuck in through a basement window into City Hall. He shot George Moscone in the chest, then in the head while he lay on the floor. He then went to Harvey Milk's office, asked him to speak privately, then shot Milk in the chest and the head as he had done Mayor Moscone.

White's defense, now called "The Twinkie Defense", was that he suffered from depression and had eaten too much junk food that clouded his reason- causing temporary insanity. The jury, swayed by his ex-cop status, good qualities and "moral" standings, accepted this defense and came back with a verdict in less than a half hour.

White was convicted of manslaughter, a far cry from the first-degree murder originally requested.

On May 21, 1979, the manslaughter conviction and sentence -seven years and eight months in Soledad State Prison- turned a protest at City Hall into a riot. The White Night Riot was the first gay riot since the Stonewall Riots in New York ten years before. The police retaliated with an unprovoked attack on the Castro district. They injured many gay people and the Elephant Walk bar was nearly destroyed. Its owners sued the city and were reimbursed for all damages incurred.   

White killed himself on October 21, 1985, less than two years after being paroled.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to hold an influential public office, but he was more than a public official- that just happened to be gay. He was not naïve about the world or of his status in it, and understood the need for homosexuals to become a visible force to influence their own destinies, only from a visible place could they become a voice for change. They must come out - for the sake of all, not just the individual. The closeted life was a lie that had to be shattered.

He wanted the simple acknowledgement that homosexuals were human beings - not deviants, not perverts, potential child molesters, or a people undeserving of the same freedoms and rights enjoyed by their straight counterparts. He strove to show that being gay was as much of a choice as skin color or eye color. Being gay was something that one was, not what one had chosen. He wanted all closet doors shattered and the truth to come out for the good of all.  This was how he lived his life and this was the life he envisioned for those that would follow.

The man appointed to replace Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, was the only incumbent to win in the City election after the killings. He too was a politician who just happened to be gay.


...Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends, if indeed they are your friends. You must tell your neighbors. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize we are indeed their children, we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo, will be destroyed once and for all. And once... once you do, you will feel so much better.

-Harvey Milk


References and further reading:
Randy Shilts, (1982), The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk , New York: St. Martin's Press
http://www.backdoor.com/CASTRO/milkpage.html#index
http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08478.html
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=3579
http://www.findarticles.com/cf_dls/m1589/1998_Nov_10/54879376/p1/article.jhtml?term=
http://www.harveymilk.org
http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/milk.html ("The Forgotten Populist" This is an amazing reference describing Milk's political views and processes- great info here)
http://www.kqed.org/tv/productions/hood/castro/resourceguide/harveymilk.html
http://www.lambda.net/~maximum/milk.html
http://www.notfrisco.com/colmatales/moscone/moscpic1.html
http://www.ohnonews.com/twinkie.html
http://www.queersf.com/education/harveymilkbio.html
http://www.queersf.com
http://www.queertheory.com/histories/
http://www.sbu.ac.uk/~stafflag/harveymilk.html
http://www.planetsoma.com/sf1970/scene/harvey.html
http://search.biography.com/print_record.pl?id=17646
http://students.itec.sfsu.edu/itec815summer/bcreane/teacher/resources.html
http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/milk01.html
http://www.turnleft.com/out/milk.html

The drums play like a lightning storm: mighty, singular cracks with long, tense spaces between them. The bass is overdosed on distortion and sounds like rumbling concrete, the notes stretching on longer than they have any right to. The vocals are what you'd expect to hear upon finding a man at the bottom of a canyon with two broken legs, howling for help for hours before the wolves arrive. The guitar is the mindless responding wolves.

They're the heaviest band I've ever heard, surpassing Boris, sunn O))), Earth, and Melvins in the art of generating subterranean rumbles and hemorrhage-inducing groans. And on top of that, the actual music is fascinating. It's intelligent, but presents itself without a shred of pretension, or even pride. That's not to say sunn O)))'s music isn't thoughtfully composed; Monoliths & Dimensions is proof of that. With Harvey Milk though, it appears when you least expected it, right in the middle of what you assumed was yet another mindless stoner jam from the South, with the usual downtuned guitars and bulldozer tempos. Not so.

Harvey Milk is a sludge/doom metal band from Athens, Georgia. Genre tells you little. Harvey Milk sounds like that day you were sitting in a meeting while construction was going on in the street right outside, and the entire building trembled for a week straight. And no one could hear anyone speak. But then there are the silences: cold, long, and awkward voids that make some of their songs seem minimalistic.

These were the trademarks of the early days of Harvey Milk, days that saw albums like the 1994 debut My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, and then their second album, Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men. These two releases were epic, potent lessons in pain, depression, and the limits of human tolerance. Both are over an hour long, with two songs each that extend past the 10 minute mark. They could be called avant-garde, or noise, but those are just different ways of saying that when first played, these albums are not easy to listen to. The songs melt into each other, and it's easy to lose track of time. Harvey Milk demonstrates that it's possible to fit half an hour into five minutes as long as you're being subjected to music that is sprawling, bleak, and confusing enough.

After it became evident from record sales and concert turnouts that the world was less than appreciative about Harvey Milk's music, the band released The Pleaser, by far their most uninteresting release. It's chock-full of sleazy midtempo barnburners, turning the band into something like ZZ Top or Motorhead. It sounds good, as if this style had been the main destination rather than a diversion, but ultimately that's what it proved to be. The band, not getting the recognition they needed in order to continue playing, broke up soon after. The next studio album would come nine years later, in 2006, and with that Harvey Milk would return to a new musical landscape.

It's obvious that the majority of listeners were not quite ready for Harvey Milk when they formed in 1992, but by 2006 there were hundreds of bands doing those ultra-slow doom metal jams. Bongripper's Great Barrier Reefer and Hate Ashbury are two such albums, combining the wavy motion of post-rock with Melvinsish crunch and crashing. With Special Wishes, Harvey Milk was like a rightful king returning to the throne after a violent revolution. Granted, Special Wishes was something of a compromise between the two kinds of albums they'd already released. The album after, Life... The Best Game In Town, would be even closer to a perfect hybrid of Pleaser and Courtesy.

It seems they had found their niche, and began to tour fairly extensively, even making it up to Canada for the first time in 2009 and returning the next year on their A Small Turn Of Human Kindness tour. That last album is a perfect balance of everything Harvey Milk has done well so far, and may eventually be seen as their best work. I saw them play on both those tours, and afterwards I couldn't believe I had ever thought their albums were heavy. Their live shows are amazing. Each band member can navigate those wide pauses perfectly, and I'm fairly sure the concert venue Lee's Palace wasn't scheduled to be demolished that night but that's almost what happened.

The band's current lineup features Creston Spiers as vocals, guitar, and the occasional sledgehammer and anvil (used for percussion in the song All The Live Long Day). Harvey Milk is one of the heaviest bands I've ever heard, but Spiers' hoarse, mournful howls really make their music what it is. Stephen Tanner is on bass, ably following Creston's lead during the slow bits and then taking the wheel during any of the frequent depraved, scumbag guitar solos. Drummer Kyle Spence is the one with the hardest job, trying to keep time to these songs and navigating silences that seem louder than the instruments themselves. Paul Trudeau has also drummed for Harvey Milk, during both phases. In addition, Joe Preston (better known as a bassist) filled in as a second guitarist during the Life... recording sessions and subsequent tour.

It would seem that Harvey Milk is here to stay this time. Their recent shows have been packed full, even when touring outside of the country, and the music they're currently putting out is netting high praise from major music publications. There's no doubt they've earned it all, and it's great to see, for once, a happy ending for something that the world wasn't ready for.

Studio Albums:
My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be (1994)
Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men (1996)
The Pleaser (1997)
Special Wishes (2006)
Life... The Best Game in Town (2008)
A Small Turn of Human Kindness (2010)

Live Albums:
Live Pleaser (1997)
Live at TT the Bear's (1999)
Live at Supersonic July 12 2008 (2009)

Compilations/Rereleased material:
The Singles (2003)
The Kelly Sessions (2004)
Harvey Milk (2009)

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