Got Milk Day? A Martyr’s Playlist.

Happy Harvey Milk Day!

May 22 is the birthday of the former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) a camera store owner in San Francisco’s Castro District who gradually became an equal rights activist before becoming the  first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and eventually a martyr to the cause. On November 27, 1978, a disgruntled and criminally deranged former Supervisor named Dan White, who had recently been ousted from government, had entered City Hall through a basement window (he had a handgun on him and wanted to get past the front door metal detectors) and went hunting for Mayor Howard Moscone. White shot and killed Moscone at point blank range and then went looking for Milk, the man who symbolized to him the shift away from his straight conservative principles, and arguably the emblem for White’s own demise as a politician. White shot Milk five times, including twice in the head at close range. Milk was 48 years old. Moscone was 49. Dan White managed to walk out of building and was later arrested, eventually pleading temporary insanity owing to depression and a bad diet of junk food, mocked widely as “the Twinkie defense.” White had come from the first responder community, and according to historical accounts many police officers were seen wearing “Free Dan White” T-shirts in the days after the assassination.  White showed no remorse during his trial and his lawyer, Doug Schmidt, argued that he was not responsible for his actions, claiming “diminished capacity.” It sort of worked. White was merely found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to just over seven  years, and with good good behavior, he would be out in five. When word spread that the murderer of the so-called “Mayor Of Castro Street” was going to get off so lightly for assassinating two elected officials, a vengeful mood swept over the activist community and the city at large, and a mob marched back to City Hall, the scene of the crime, where the more violent among them set police cars and the front doors of City Hall ablaze. When asked by the press about the mob violence, one clever rioter was said to have told them “We ate too many Twinkies!” Whether they helped or hurt the image of the “movement,” The White Night Riots had made their point. And history recalls the outrage as a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

As Milk’s former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, wrote: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and last year Sean Penn portrayed him in Gus Van Sant’s Milk.


For further information check out Randy Shilts’ 1982 book, The Mayor of Castro Street and Rob Esptein’s documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, which won the 1984 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

But this is a Music Blog, so here are a few songs that I think fit in for today…

Of course we gotta have some Tom Robinson Band…

Here’s “Glad To Be Gay”

and “Power In The Darkness.”

While it’s not strictly a gay song, I always thought that Iggy Pop’s “Cry For Love” could be construed as a rallying song for the rights of lovers…

Of course, Jello Biafra and The Dead Kennedys knew that the vulgarity of Dan White’s relatively mild sentence did not require a good taste response, so they went for it in their post-Milk cover of “I Fought The Law” which is strictly not safe for work, even today.

Let’s close with  The Kids In The Hall’s Brain Candy, “I’m Gay”…

And KITH also appear (in drag) in this greatly misunderstood song by my pals Odds, “Heterosexual Man”

Happy Milk Day.

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2 Responses to “Got Milk Day? A Martyr’s Playlist.”

  1. thanks for reminding us to celebrate harvey milk, a real-life hero and mensch. good stuff.

  2. good article, how we can blogroll?

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