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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Lees

Pride History: Harvey Milk

I read this book quickly and in chunks; part on an airplane, part on the sofa. It is extremely well-written and easy to read.

Unfortunately, I didn't mark my favorite parts throughout the book, (so I am not doing an in-depth analysis like I did with Lincoln.) I think I'll start doing that sort of thing again in the winter.

Below I highlighted some thought-provoking favorites from Lillian Faderman's writing "Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death."

Teamsters Seek Gay Help

So, I'll preface this by saying that today, I typically think of gay rights in terms of same-sex marriages or same-sex couples who want to have children or adopt children. Despite the uncertainty of recent events, a lot has changed. (And this book addresses and examines several other issues and fundamentalists of the time that I won't really look at, like Anita Bryant, the Briggs Initiative, etc.)

Typically today, I don't think of people being denied jobs as often due to sexual orientation (Bostock v. Clayton County). However, I know that it does happen. I'm not naive. Yet, I didn't think that some companies actually made people (some of whom may have been closeted at the time because being gay or lesbian wasn't openly accepted and this would have made getting a job much more difficult or even impossible) take polygraph tests, showing that they didn't lead an "immoral lifestyle." This was true of Coors.

A boycott against Coors Beer originally started with Hispanics in the 1960s because less than 2 percent of Coors employees were Hispanic. This boycott expanded in the fall of 1973 when Coors and five other breweries refused to hire any union drivers. Soon after, Allan Baird, the president of Teamsters local 921, teamed up with Harvey Milk--Harvey holding the one caveat that only openly gay truck drivers could be hired.

Openly gay truck drivers were hired by Budweiser, Lucky Lager, Falstaff, and several other beer companies. Coors held out much longer--for a total of four years--but finally relented.

Coors is one of my least favorite beers. I just wanted to add that.


One of my favorite things about the book that I think Faderman really shows is how resilient Harvey was, but also, how vulnerable. And there are moments where she addresses (through him) these times, especially early in life, where he can't quite be himself because he can't completely express his homosexuality, which is integral to his character, to any friends, family, or coworkers.

I really liked hearing about his early experiences going to the Opera House to listen to music and later, to indulge in some secret sexual experiences.

Later, his homosexuality is part of his power in campaigning and holding political office (and part of his resiliency.) The other vulnerability that Faderman demonstrates is just some of his flaws and this rare ability to see Harvey as yourself--which I think was part of his message. He wanted to be a champion of gay people, of course, but he also wanted to reach out to those who felt lost or disenfranchized in some way. He wanted to give you hope.

Different Rules for Different People

If you know Harvey Milk's name, you probably know about him and Mayor of San Francisco George Moscone's assassination. Having said that, I do not believe in the death penalty (only in very rare cases where the person is already extremely ill and wants it, possibly. It's very complicated. I don't like unnecessary suffering.) In any case, I do think, as is sometimes the case today, there are different rules for different people.

This could be seen with the support of California Proposition 7, which passed in 1978. It stated that for special circumstances, including murder of multiple victims and assassination of public office, a person could still receive execution. Former right-wing American politician Dan White, who shot Milk and Moscone, was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison (after receiving the conviction of voluntary manslaughter). Though he was released for good behavior a little after five years, he would later commit suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death"

Harvey Milk did a lot of things.

He was a teacher, a navy man, he worked on Wall Street (during which time, he campaigned for Barry Goldwater.)

He ran a camera store. He lived in Texas, New York, and California.

One of his lovers committed suicide and was found hanging in his apartment bedroom.

He was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

And, he was a lot more.

This book, which is just about 250 pages, packs it all in. And in a way that's easy to read and understand. If you don't know about him, you need to read this book.

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