Today is Harvey Milk Day, held each year on this day to mark the birth of the slain civil rights leader who was the first openly gay elected official in the state of California.
Milk, who was born on this day in 1930 and was gunned down on November 27, 1978, moved to San Francisco in 1972 and was a champion of LGBT rights both before and during his time in office. His visibility in the community and tireless advocacy earned him the nickname “The Mayor of Castro Street.”
He encouraged coming out as a political act, having done so himself at the age of 40, and encouraged LGBT people to follow in his footsteps by running for political office.
Milk’s accomplishments include helping to squash an initiative that would have made firing gay teachers, and any public school staff who supported gay rights, mandatory. He also encouraged Pride flag creator Gilbert Baker to create a more positive symbol for the LGBT community than the pink triangle that was rallied behind at the time, and which had been used by the Nazis to classify gay people.
Milk’s legacy has only grown in the years since his death, resulting in a posthumously awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, among many other honors. Most recently, the San Francisco International Airport announced it would rename a terminal in his honor.
Those looking to celebrate Harvey Milk Day, as well as learn more about the man’s legendary life and work, should check out the films below.
The Times of Harvey Milk
The 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk tells of Milk’s rise, the assassination, and the aftermath, including the trial of Milk’s murderer, Dan White.
It was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2012 by the United States Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It remains the definitive documentary on Milk’s life and career.
The most famous of the three films on this list, the 2008 biopic Milk stars Sean Penn in the titular role, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
A commercial and critical success, Milk helped bring wider awareness to the late politician and activist’s story.
575 Castro St.
575 Castro, directed by Jenni Olson, sets Milk’s audio recording made in the event he was assassinated, to be “played for the appropriate people” after his death, to footage of the Castro Camera Store set used in the film Milk.
Milk owned a camera store upon which it is based and used it as a campaign headquarters.
He ends the recording by urging people to come out of the closet and fight for LGBT rights.
“It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power, it’s about giving those young people out there…hope. You gotta give ’em hope,” he says.