NYC Moscone Milk Verdict Protest

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NYC Moscone Milk Verdict Protest


By: David Karp

Date: May 22, 1979

Source: Karp, David. "NYC Moscone Milk Verdict Protest." Associated Press Worldwide Photos, May 22, 1979.

About the Photographer: David Karp is a freelance photographer and author.


The murder of gay rights activist Harvey Milk in 1978 is regarded as an event that equals the 1969 New York City Stonewall Riots for mobilizing the homosexual community to oppose anti-gay discrimination.

Harvey Milk (1930–1978) served in the United States Navy before being dismissed for being homosexual. His dishonorable discharge prevented him from pursuing a teaching career and instead, Milk became a prosperous Wall Street financial analyst. He was not openly homosexual until he moved to San Francisco in 1969 to take a job as a securities analyst. He subsequently opened a camera shop on Castro Street, in the gay section of San Francisco. Known as the Mayor of Castro Street, Milk won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His election made him both the first openly gay supervisor in the city and the highest openly gay government official in the United States.

Milk's major political achievement was the passage of a citywide gay rights ordinance that forbade discrimination on account of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodation. The only San Francisco supervisor to oppose the bill was Dan White, a former fireman and policeman. White resigned from office on November 10, 1978 claiming that the $9,600 part-time salary was not sufficient to support his family. Milk urged Mayor George Moscone (1929–1978) not to reappoint White when he requested a few weeks later that the supervisor seat be returned to him. (Moscone, a heterosexual man, was known for being gay-friendly and had appointed a number of homosexuals to various city commissions.) On November 27, 1978, White got revenge by fatally shooting both Moscone and Milk in their City Hall offices. Over 25,000 San Franciscans attended the memorial service for the men.

In White's trial, defense lawyers mounted the infamous "Twinkie" defense. They claimed that their client consumed so much junk food that it impaired his judgment. In May 1979, White, who faced the death penalty, was found guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. He received a sentence of seven years and eight months. The sentence triggered enormous anger in the gay and lesbian community, who perceived that the judge and jury were putting little value on the life of a gay man. In San Francisco, the White Night Riots erupted with three thousand protesters converging on City Hall and causing over $1 million in damages. After White's release from prison in 1984, he took his own life.



See primary source image.


As the first openly homosexual public official in the United States, Harvey Milk was a pioneer. His charisma, his speeches, and his entrance into the heterosexual power base of San Francisco gave the homosexual community hope that they would someday live in a world free of persecution. Milk never tolerated low self-esteem, and he supported gay pride efforts by stressing the need for homosexuals to make themselves known in the community.

Compared to other historic figures, Milk's legend has remained mostly intact. Given his brief time in office and his refusal to sanitize his personal life, there have been few revelations since the 1982 publication of a biography of Milk by Randy Shilts.

In the years since his murder, Milk has become a martyr of the gay rights movement. He is far better known now than he was in his lifetime. He has been immortalized in a Broadway play, a made-for-TV movie, in the first gay-themed film to win an Academy Award ("The Times of Harvey Milk" in 1984), in a New York City high school for gay and lesbian children, in an opera, and in books. In San Francisco, an elementary school, a civic plaza, a restaurant, a queer cultural institute, and library bear Milk's name. He is invoked as a symbol of the gains that gay men and lesbians have made and their continuing struggle for equality.



Hinkle, Warren. Gayslayer!: The Story of How Dan White Killed Harvey Milk and George Moscone and Got Away With Murder. Virginia City, NV: Silver Dollar, 1985.


Shilts, Randy. Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.

Web sites

Time. "The Time 100: Harvey Milk." 〈〉 (accessed April 2, 2006).