The civil and human rights champion Harvey Milk is a hero to many. He broke down barriers for the gay community and other marginalized people everywhere, and he spoke passionately about hope and equity as a leader in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement until he was assassinated in 1978. And still, the iconic activist's poignant words live on decades later as an inspiration to be proud, to be counted, and to fight on.
Who Was Harvey Milk?
Milk became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country when he was elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 — a milestone victory that made headlines even around the world. His unapologetic proclamation of his identity gave new hope to LGBTQ+ people, who faced severe discrimination.
In office, his ambitious agenda included protecting gay rights, as well as establishing daycare centers for working mothers, converting military facilities to low-cost housing, reforming the tax code to attract industry to derelict warehouses and factories, and other reforms.
Less than a year after he took office, Milk was assassinated, alongside Mayor George Moscone, by a disgruntled former city supervisor who snuck into City Hall through a basement window. Thousands marched in his honor after his death, and his words live on as a source of pride and inspiration.
Harvey Milk’s Most Memorable Quotes
“I have tasted freedom. I will not give up that which I have tasted."
“I know you can't live on hope alone. But without hope, life is not worth living. So you, and you and you: You got to give them hope. You got to give them hope!”
“We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets.”
“The events that started the American Revolution were the meetings in homes, pubs, on street corners.”
"It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions."
“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
“All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about."
“Worry about becoming a human being and not about how you can prevent others from enjoying their lives because of your own inability to adjust to life."
“Hope will never be silent.”
"We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it."
“Gay brothers and sisters... You must come out. Come out to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth!”
“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
"Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice."
“It's not my victory — it's yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We've given them hope.”
"Freedom is too enormous to be slipped under a closet door."
“Politics is theater. It doesn't matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, 'I'm here, pay attention to me.'”
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
“The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, my friends, is true perversion.”
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
"I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes the target or the potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed with themselves."
“I think that what we actually need... is a little more dirt on the seat of our pants as we sit on the front stoop and talk to our neighbors once again.”
"Get out of the bars and into the streets!”
"I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up."
“I’ll fight for you because I am you.”
"Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people's opinion."
"I think I was always part of the movement. I wish I had time to explain everything I did. Almost everything was done with an eye on the gay movement."
"Last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and the voice was young. My election gave one more young person hope."
“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution."
"I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they'll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive.”
"If I do a good job, people won't care if I am green or have three heads."
“Don’t sit there and wait for her to call, go after her because that’s what you should do if you love someone. Don’t wait for them to give you a sign because it might never come.”
“Let's make no mistake about this: The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods. If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. And to do that, we must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.”
"Coming out is the most political thing you can do."
"If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities — the expression of love — then life itself loses its meaning."
"Some people call me the unofficial mayor of Castro Street."
“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”
“The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.”
“That is what loving someone is, that is raw and that is unguarded, and that is all that is worth anything, really.”
"Without hope, not only are the gays, but the Blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us-es. The us-es will give up.
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
“I think that there's a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement."
“Once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”
"All over the country, they're reading about me, and the story doesn't center on me being gay. It's just about a gay person who is doing his job."
"If every gay person were to come out only to his or her own family, friends, neighbors and fellow workers, within days the entire state would discover that we are not the stereotypes generally assumed."
"It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone."
"If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We've given them hope."
"I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up, and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine."
"My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you."
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