It seems almost inconceivable now, but not that long ago, gay rights in America were essentially non-existent. Today’s tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, both culturally and politically, took years of activism and advocacy.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]While there are countless names that fought for the cause, one stands out as an icon of the movement: Harvey Milk.[/pullquote]
Although he wasn’t the first openly gay public official or even the first candidate out of the closet to run for office, Milk has gone on to embody LGBT equality AND the spirit of the city he served.
Every year, May 22 (his birthday) is celebrated as Harvey Milk Day. In commemoration, we’ve put together a list of must-see San Francisco destinations for visitors interested in the life of this gay rights champion.
575 Castro Street
This is the location of Milk’s small business, Castro Camera. The storefront served as a gathering place for the neighborhood’s growing gay community, as well as Milk’s campaign headquarters for his various runs at public office (he also lived in the apartment upstairs). It was meticulously reconstructed to just how it looked when Milk was alive for the filming of the academy award-winning 2008 movie based on his life. Today, it’s home to the Human Rights Campaign Store.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Interesting MILK morsel: Milk proudly served as a diving officer and instructor in the US Navy.[/pullquote]
Harvey Milk Plaza
San Francisco isn’t exactly short on places named after Milk. There’s a school, a recreation center, a federal building, and a library branch. However, Harvey Milk Plaza, at the corner of Market and Castro Street, is probably the most important. When Milk was killed in 1978, San Franciscans gathered in the plaza that night and marched in a candlelight vigil to city hall. In 1997, exactly 20 years after his election, the plaza was dedicated to Milk’s memory and a giant rainbow flag installed.
San Francisco City Hall
As a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk’s office was located in City Hall. It was also where he was assassinated, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, on November 27, 1978. The building’s impressive architecture alone is a reason to see it, but its significance to Milk’s story (along the memorial bust honoring him at the top of the main staircase and just outside the Supervisors room) is probably why you’d want to make it a point to stop by.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Interesting MILK morsel: In 1978, Milk sponsored a pioneering ordinance requiring dog owners in San Francisco to clean up after their pets. Today, this ordinance is commonplace in cities across the US.[/pullquote]
The Harvey Milk Historic Streetcar
Milk was a political leader best known for his work for gay rights, he also tackled smaller issues, like sponsoring an ordinance requiring dog owners to clean up after their pooches and advocating for the city’s public transit (he was the first city supervisor to use the then-new monthly transit card). So it’s kind of fitting that the city’s public transit system, Muni (short for San Francisco Municipal Railway) would dedicate one of its historic streetcars in Milk’s honor. You can catch a ride on Streetcar No. 1051 pretty much any day along the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar line. The streetcar features a plaque about Milk and can even be spotted in one scene in the movie Milk.
Think we missed an essential San Francisco location related to Harvey Milk? Let us know in the comments section below!