When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' first openly gay politician recorded a will in 1977 that read, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” one would be forgiven for allowing themselves to shun the very thought that the metaphorical closets could ever be eliminated.
Such was the strength of Harvey Milk's convictions, however, that when a bullet (well, two of them) did enter his brain - killing him stone dead, there were two memorials held for him; a private one at Temple Emanu-El, and another more lavish one, at the San Francisco Opera House, that was attended by an incredible 3,500 mourners.
Speaking to NPR, Cleve Jones, a young intern of Milk's, chronicled the days after Milk's untimely slaying.
"And we marched to Civic Center and filled it with candlelight," he recalled. "And I remember standing in that huge crowd and realizing that of course it wasn't over. It was in-fact just beginning."
Fourty years later, Milk's wish for 'closet destruction' is taking giant strides.
During the U.S. Midterm elections, the LGBTQ community recorded a groundbreaking 57 percent success rate for LGBTQ candidates.
This, despite U.S. President Donald Trump imposing sanctions on people of minority.
For example, the New York Times reported that Trump's cabinet is considering an interpretation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded schools, that “would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.”
Vox, citing the NY Times claim, "The proposal would effectively erase protections for trans people, from federal civil rights laws — ensuring that the laws do not prohibit discrimination against trans people in any setting, including the workplace, housing, schools, and health care."
Harvey Milk saw himself as more than just another political candidate; "I have never just considered myself a candidate," he told David Goodstein, political activist for the LGBT community. "I've always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. The movement is the candidate."
In his article, My turn: Harvey Milk’s message resonates, 40 years later author Mark Leno argues that Milk was a populist and fighter for the disenfranchised people.
He states, "He spoke of the “us-es”—the ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, immigrants, women, those who are differently-abled, seniors. He fought for all those who lacked a voice."
He famously fought to abolish Proposition 6; an anti-gay/lesbian mandate that - if passed, would have seen gays and lesbians banned from working in the education sector.
Furthermore, a mere eight months before he was executed, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a gay-rights ordinance, which banned discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation.
This came 10 days after Milk gave a keynote address at a San Diego dinner of the gay caucus of the California Democratic Council, later to be dubbed "the Hope Speech," because of the power and emotion Milk exuded.
With great success came grave tragedy; throughout his tenure as Supervisor in San Francisco City he faced staunch opposition from another Supervisor, Dan White.
Despite Milk's appeal for the two to work together, White's frustration working alongside a homosexual, while citing that his salary wasn't sufficient to support his family, led to his departure.
After protests from his supporters, he asked progressive-thinking Mayor George Moscone for his job back. After initially relenting, Mayor Moscone denied White his request.
It would lead to a chain of events that would cost the Mayor, and Harvey Milk their lives.
Carrying a loaded .38 revolver to City Hall, White entered through a side door to avoid a weapons search.
Moscone’s secretary let White into Moscone’s office - White shot him four times.
He then calmly walked down the hall to Milk’s office and asked, “Harvey, can I see you a minute?” White shot him five times, twice point-blank in the head while Milk lay prone on the ground.
The following days were awash with emotion, with a reported 25,000 people paying vigil to both Moscone and Milk outside City Hall.
There were protests in the streets after White pleaded guilty for manslaughter, blaming depression and excessive junk food consumption as the reasons for the killings.
The media coined this "twinkie defense."
White would serve five years, and subsequently commit suicide shortly after his release.
In death, Harvey Milk became a martyr; a spiritual guide for the LGBTQ movement.
In life, he was a groundbreaker who survived discrimination, only to have his life cut short at a time his supporters needed him most.
He eerily predicted his own tragedy, and just exactly how he'd go out. In his own words, "As a gay activist - a target for somebody who is insecure, afraid, or disturbed themselves."
With the rise of homophobia and xenophobia in the U.S. and abroad, Harvey's struggle to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation becomes more relevant and inspiring than ever.