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See the bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

[1] Born on May 22, 1930, Harvey Milk’s early life was marked by a series of career changes. He served in the Navy during the Korean War, where he worked in the diving unit. After being honorably discharged in 1955, Milk returned to New York where he was employed as a high school teacher and then an insurance actuary.

[2] In 1972, Milk and his new boyfriend Scott Smith moved from New York to the Castro in San Francisco, California. The area was a burgeoning mecca for out gay men, and it was here that Milk opened a camera store called Castro Camera with Smith. The store quickly gained a reputation as an activist hangout with Milk emerging as a leader in the gay community. His reputation was cemented in 1973 when Milk joined the Teamsters union boycott of Coors and convinced bar owners in the Castro to remove all Coors products in exchange for the Teamsters agreeing to hire out gay delivery men. His oratorical abilities received a great deal of press, and he was given the moniker, “The Mayor of Castro Street.”

[3] Milk made his first run for public office in 1973 when he ran for cIty supervisor. His candidacy was not supported by the local gay clubs, and he lost handily. Undeterred, Milk turned his attention to combating the discrimination faced by openly gay merchants in the Castro by forming the Castro Village Association and by serving as its first president. He ran again for city supervisor in 1975 and, although he lost, Milk gained the attention of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who appointed Milk to the Board of Permit Appeals. This appointment was the first time that an out gay man served as commissioner in the United States.

[4] In 1977, a voting district realignment occurred in which district elections replaced city wide elections. Milk used this change to become elected to the position of city supervisor. In doing so, Milk became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States. Milk used his position to advocate for the interests of all of his constituents, both heterosexual and homosexual. Yet, he was particularly interested in ending the legalized discrimination of homosexuals. Milk also realized that his public position put him in jeopardy, and he recorded a will on November 18, 1977, with instructions that it was only to be played in the event of his death by assassination.

[5] Milk’s initial acts as supervisor concentrated on addressing issues of police brutality, dealing with the needs of the senior population, and sponsoring a number of civil rights initiatives. One of his most famous initiatives involved sponsoring a city ordinance requiring dog owners to scoop their pets’ excrement. Called the “pooper scooper law,” this ordinance was embraced by the majority and demonstrated Milk’s keen understanding of the relationship between politics and theatre.

[6] Milk’s biggest political fight as city supervisor was over Proposition Six, a proposed law that would have made firing gay teachers in California public schools and anyone who publicly supported gay rights legal. Also known as the Briggs Initiative, in honor of its sponsor Orange County state legislator John Briggs, Proposition Six was another in a long line of anti-gay legislation sweeping the country at the time. The genesis for Proposition Six stemmed from the success of Save Our Children, a conservative organization led by Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant, in repealing an ordinance banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation. This repeal was followed by similar measures in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Milk voiced concern over these developments and set about creating a way in which Briggs would be forced to debate Milk publicly over the proposed proposition.

[7] Launching the “NO on 6” campaign, Milk quickly gained the support of politicians of varying political stripes including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. He also succeeded in getting Briggs to agree to a series of public forums in which the two debated the merits of the proposition. Milk used these opportunities to inject humor into his answers as a means of winning over the public and as a way of changing public perception as to what it meant to be an openly gay man. Milk also called for all homosexuals to come out to their families and friends, saying that people have a difficult time voting against the rights of a class of people when they know someone directly affected. During this period, Milk was also successful in getting Mayor Moscone to sign the San Francisco Gay Civil Rights Ordinance, a bill sponsored by Milk mandating equitable treatment under the law regardless of sexual orientation. Proposition Six appeared on the California State ballot on November 7, 1978, and was soundly defeated.

[8] Three days after the defeat of Proposition Six, Dan White, a supervisor who was often at odds with Milk politically, resigned from his office citing the low pay. He quickly changed his mind and requested to be reinstated but Mayor Moscone, pressured by Milk and others, refused White’s request. On November 27, 1978, Milk and Moscone were assassinated by White as they worked in their respective City Hall Offices. Dianne Feinstein, the President of the Board of Supervisors, announced the deaths on television to a stunned audience. Later that evening, the city held an impromptu candlelight vigil drawing more than 30,000 mourners.

[9] White was arrested but argued that his judgment was impaired by eating too much junk food, and the jury returned a guilty of voluntary manslaughter verdict. White's sentence for the two murders was seven years and eight months. The Castro reacted violently to the verdict in a series of riots christened “White Night” by the media. In the end, White served just over five years for the double murders.

[10] Harvey Milk’s political legacy is one of community building and advocacy. He believed that the gay community should represent itself and that being out publicly was a responsibility of every homosexual. Milk advocated the practice of outing, especially against closeted conservative opponents, believing that it was a necessity in the battle for legislative equality. In 2009, Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his advocacy of gay rights.

Print Resources

Aretha, David. No Compromise: The Story of Harvey Milk. Greensboro: Morgan Reynolds, 2009.
Intended to be a reader of LGBTQI issues for high school students, this work tracks Milk's political ascension. The book devotes a large amount of space to Milk's life as a closeted man and uses this fact to explain the larger context of the Gay Rights Movement. Similarly, ample photographs and annotations explain the changing political environment that allowed Milk to climb the political ladder. The most vivid element of this book is the author's explanation of local politics and how issues fought on that level impact the national conversation of social issues. One disappointing element is the coverage of Dan White, which is a far less nuanced portrait that the one painted by Mike Weiss. While not overwhelmingly in-depth, this book is well researched and provides a helpful list of websites and other materials that will aid students in researching the life of Milk.
Foss K. "Harvey Milk and the Queer Rhetorical Situation: A Rhetoric of Contradiction." Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical Discourse. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2007. 74-92.
Foss argues that queer rhetoric is often channeled through the prism of the heterosexual experience. He points to the rhetorical strategy of making Harvey Milk an exception to that rule and explains how Milk used humor and inclusive language in order to connect with heterosexual voters. Milk believed in non-apologetic language and sought to establish the concept of homosexuality as palatable to middle America. This is an interesting look at Milk's language and will be of use to scholars interested in how Milk's language added to the public discourse on issues related to LGBTQI civil rights.
Milk, Harvey. An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk's Speeches and Writings. Ed. Edward Black. Berkeley: U of California P, 2012.
While Emery's edited work focuses on Milk's interviews and debates, Black's examines Milk's writings and speeches by placing them within their historical context. What emerges in this book is the clear political vision of Milk and his commitment to achieve equality for the LGBTQI community though whatever means necessary. This includes the controversial process of outing, something Milk advocated especially for closeted politicians working publicly against gay rights. One of the most telling aspects to Milk's writing is his awareness of how to use persuasion in order to appeal to a larger base of voters, particularly ones not sympathetic to gay rights. Milk demonstrates a keen understanding of human behavior as well as a sensitivity toward others facing persecution. His work is of tremendous value to researcher because of the amount of primary materials contained within as well as for its ability to situate the gay rights movement within the turbulent 1970s.
Milk, Harvey. The Harvey Milk Interviews: In His Own Words. Ed. Vince Emery. Chicago: Vince Emery Productions, 2012.
For any student of Milk, this work is essential reading. Through over forty interviews given by Milk, a nuanced portrait of a man who was fueled by the cause of equality emerges. On one hand, Milk was notorious for his showmanship, and so one should probably be suspect of the spin Milk puts on his answers to questions posed by interviewers. Yet, there are many moments of quiet reflection also contained in this work in which the reader becomes privy to the very real concerns of Milk. This is especially true in one of his last interviews, in which Milk makes it very clear that his own political trajectory means nothing when compared to the larger aims of the movement. The real gem of this book is the transcripts of the three debates Milk had with Senator John Briggs over Proposition Six, an amendment intended to make firing a teacher for being gay or anyone who vocally supported gay rights legal. This is the first time these transcripts have appeared in a book, and they shed significant light into Milk's abilities both as an orator and as a skilled student of publicity. This work is of significant use to students both for its wealth of primary source materials as well as for the helpful concluding chronology of events.
Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008.
Part biography and part call for social activism, this well documented work by gay activist Shilts traces in detail the life of America's first elected openly gay official, Harvey Milk. The author approaches his subject as a hero story and sets out to explain the motivating factors that led Milk to go from a closeted man to an out politician who challenged the system at every turn. While some of the events of the book have been criticized for their accuracy, most pointedly by Milk's close associate Cleve Jones, critical reception was largely positive. In addition to exploring the events of Milk's life, Shilts also contextualizes the gay rights movement by devoting significant space to events such as Stonewall and the White Night Riots. This work is particularly valuable for students interested in the history of what it was like to be a gay man in American in the 1950s-1970s.
Weiss, Mike. Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Chicago: Vince Emery Productions, 2010.
Designed to reach beyond the sensationalistic coverage of the murders of Milk and Moscone, this work explores in-depth the political environment of San Francisco politics in the 1970s. In doing so, the author provides a frame of reference that aids the reader in understanding how Milk, Moscone, and White fit within the political machine. The author's main intent is to detail -- through such evidentiary materials as news accounts, article clippings, and first-hand testimony -- the events that transpired on November 27, 1978. In addition to a detailed portrait of the murders, this book also examines fully the life of Dan White and provides new insights into whether his murder of Milk can be classified as a hate crime. White's taped confession is presented in a DVD addendum to the book and is presented without commentary as is footage of Dianne Feinstein's eye-witness account of finding Milk's body.

See Also

Black, Jason Edward. An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk's Speeches and Writings. Berkeley: U of California P, 2013.

Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Hincle, Warren. Gayslayer! Grosse Point Farms: Silver Dollar Books, 1979.

Loewen, James. Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: Touchstone, 2007.

Marcus, Eric. Making Gay History. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

Video/Audio Resources

Ask Not. Dir. Johnny Symons. Persistent Visions, 2008.
"Award-winning PBS documentary ASK NOT is a compelling exploration of the history and effects of the U.S. military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. The film exposes the tangled political battles that led to the discriminatory law, and profiles courageous activists who fought for repeal. By following the personal stories of service members, ASK NOT reveals the psychological tolls on gay Americans who served in combat under a veil of secrecy."
Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community. Dir. Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg. Center for the Study of Filmed History, 1984.
"A social history of homosexuality in America from the 1920s to 1969, showing how this group has moved from a secret shame to the status of a publicly viable minority group. Traces the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement from a 1969 police raid on Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, and the three-day riot that followed."
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt. Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Couterie, 1989.
"The story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt established by the San Francisco NAMES Project Foundation in 1987 to commemorate the lives lost to AIDS. From the thousands memorialized in the quilt, profiles five individuals--including a recovered IV drug user, a former Olympic decathlon star and a boy with hemophilia--whose stories reflect the diversity and common tragedy of those who have died from AIDS."
Execution of Justice. Dir. Leon Ichaso. Perf. Tim Daly, Peter Coyote, Khalil Kain, Tyne Daly, and Stephen Young. Daly-Harris Productions, 1999.
This fictionalized account of the trial of Dan White, the man who assassinated Milk and Moscone, asks the question of whether justice was served in the celebrated trial. Fusing archival video and sound recordings with traditional stage drama, this film is mainly of use for researchers because it dispels the myth that White effectively used the so-called "Twinkie Defense," that he was under the influence of too much junk food when he committed the murders, to receive a lesser sentence. The film also helps as the big questions of what it means to achieve justice when the parties injured are a part of the disenfranchised.
Paragraph 175. Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Channel Four Films, 2000.
"Historian Klaus Müller interviews survivors of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals because of the German Penal Code of 1871, Paragraph 175."
The Times of Harvey Milk. Dir. Robert Epstein. Perf.Harvey Fierstein, Harvey Milk, and Anne Kronenberg. Schmiechen, Epstein and Bex, 1984.
In this compelling documentary on the life of Milk, Epstein and Schmiechen create a moving portrait of a man whose activism was cut short by an assassin's bullet. Told through historical footage and first-person interviews, this documentary focuses primarily upon Milk's tenure as San Francisco Supervisor. Significant time is spent exploring city politics in San Francisco at the time of Milk's ascension as well as contextualizing the state of the Gay Rights Movement. The documentary avoids cheap sentimentality and, instead, allows the words of those who knew Milk personally to fuel the emotion of the film. This is particularly evident when participants are explaining their reaction to the candlelight vigil that spontaneously erupted on the night that Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated. While extremely well researched, this film takes a decidedly sympathetic look at Milk and avoids belaboring his more controversial stances. It serves as a one of the best sources for researchers interested in understanding Milk's political objectives as well as his legacy.
Two Spirits. Dir. Lydia Nibley. Say yes Quickly Productions, 2009.
"Examines the role of two-spirit people in the Navajo culture in the context of the story of a gay youth named Fred Martinez. Martinez was a nádleehí or a male-bodied person with a feminine essence, who was murdered in a hate crime at the age of sixteen. Discusses the traditional Native American perspective on gender and sexuality and the need for a balanced interrelationship between the feminine and masculine."
Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. Dir. Nancy Adair and Andrew Brown. Mariposa Film Group, 1977.
"Deals with homosexuality. Interviews with men and women reveal problems and successes they have had in dealing with their sexuality and with society's attitude toward them."

Online Resources

Anonymous. Hope Will Never Be Silent. The Harvey Milk Project, 8 Feb, 2010.
The Harvey Milk Project seeks to created educational materials related to the life of Milk. The site features a detailed annotated bibliography of both primary and secondary sources and a very abbreviated biography of the politician. This is a great resource for students looking for a starting point in their research on Milk.
Boneberg, Paul. Queer History. The GLBT Historical Society, 14 April 2008.
The GLBT Historical Society is an excellent resource for those scholars who are interested in understanding Milk's place within the Gay Rights Movement. Referred to as the "queer Smithsonian," this historical society holds a number of artifacts detailing Milk's career including oral histories, ephemera, and publications. One special item of note held by the society is the suit Milk was wearing on the day of his assassination. Researchers will find these resources a treasure trove in understanding both Milk's political trajectory as well as his contributions to the Gay Rights Movement.
de Jim, Strange. A Photo History of a Charismatic Gay Pioneer. Strange Billions, 11 Oct. 2008.
This site provides a photo history of Milk. Drawing upon the work of Daniel Nicoletta, Strange de Jim contextualizes the rise of Milk through a series of photographs that allow the viewer to get a sense of the man behind the image. Each photograph has an attribution to a photographer and is accompanied by an explanatory paragraph setting the scene in which the image was captured. This resource is beneficial because the images capture a great deal of the charisma for which Milk would become known and because the images situate the Castro in a particular moment in American History.
Kelley, Bob. Harvey Milk, Second Sight. San Francisco Arts Commission, 12 Feb. 2009.
Containing a number of images found at The James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, this website is meant to serve as a companion to the Randy Shilts excellent biography of Milk. An introduction explains Milk's career as well as what characteristics he possessed that made him the right man to lead the Castro in demanding equal rights. The photographs themselves show Milk primarily as an activist and in daily life. Each photograph is accompanied by either Milk's own words or by a contextualizing description. Researchers will find these images helpful in understanding Milk's political motivations and will also be aided by the selected bibliography.
Linder, Douglas. "Transcript of Dan White's Taped Confession." The Dan White Trial. University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2011.
A key part of the complete coverage of White's trial on this site.
Linder, Douglas. The Dan White (Harvey Milk Murder) Trial. University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2011.
Overview narrative of the trial plus a full collection of the relevant documents.
Milk, Stuart. Harvey Milk. The Milk Foundation, 6 Dec. 2009.
The Harvey Milk Foundation works toward achieving equality internationally for all populations who are targeted in hate crimes. The website provides information on social action initiatives and on the recently declared Harvey Milk Day. Researchers will find information on Milk's life to be sparse, but there is a statement on the assassinations as well as helpful links for those interested in learning more about civil rights.