Remembering Harvey Milk's Legacy

By Joshua Witchger 5-22-2012
Bust of Harvey Milk. By Son of Groucho/Wylio
Bust of Harvey Milk. By Son of Groucho/Wylio

Today is Harvey Milk Day.

Before Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978, the newly elected public official delivered this powerful message to a group in California: Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.”

Today, the political and social activist is remembered for his contributions to transform the world into a more inclusive, affirming environment for all people. As the first openly gay person to serve in an elected position, Milk’s 1977 ascent into public office has been instrumental in paving the way for LGBT people to authentically wield roles of power, consciousness, and change.

Sadly, Milk’s life was cut short at age 48 when he was assassinated. Though he served less than a full year in public office (as a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors), Milk has left behind a powerful vision of a better world. His commitments to justice has inspired countless people to construct programs and organizations that gather, celebrate, lobby, write and prophesize a habitat that is all just and peaceable for all, regardless of gender, sexuality, race or age.  

In 2009, President Obama honored Milk by awarding him the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, which his nephew Stuart Milk, president and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation accepted on his behalf. Today, Stuart released this powerful letter, praising his uncle’s legacy and renewing a commitment to work for equality: 

Today is the celebration not of a people or community or nation being better than another, but a celebration of the knowledge that we are so much less when we do not embrace, without qualification, all members of our unique and varied humanity…

Today we are here are voicing the hope of a global community set on the path of inclusion – there is no more fitting tribute to my uncles dream, a dream that remains alive in each of us. Today is a day of recognition and appreciation of our own authenticity and that of others, a day to collaborate and reach out to those who still struggle with either self-acceptance or societal acceptance…

Harvey Milk day is a reminder to put hate and separation in their place, a place of learning of wrongs that have been righted and reminders not to repeat them, a day to create the dream and vision of what is possible, even in the all too many places around the world where it is still so hard to visualize that dream, as it was when my uncle spoke out over 38 years ago in the US...

Today, Christians of all identities can renew their commitment to reconciliation by continuing Harvey Milk’s legacy, fighting for justice for all people.

Joshua Witchger is an online assistant at Sojourners.

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