Harvey Milk's Political Archive Archival Politics
Charles E. Morris III and Jason Edward Black
In the Images of America memory book, San Francisco's Castro, there appears a photograph depicting three volunteers anchoring the Harvey Milk Archives (HMA) booth at the 1982 Castro Street Fair.1 Fittingly, the photograph was taken by Danny Nicoletta, Harvey Milk's protégé and photographer, who for four decades now has provided invaluable views of GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer)2 life in San Francisco. For those who personally remember, or for those who against the odds have somehow learned some GLBTQ history, the photograph may be haunting, temporally and tragically poised as it is between the immediate past of Milk's 1978 assassination and the unfolding present and future of HIV/AIDS in Ronald Reagan's New Right America. Even so, Milk's signature hope appears richly embodied in the photo's details-his huge smile beaming from a displayed portrait, the "Supervisor Harvey Milk" posters, the stack of Randy Shilts' newly published biography, The Mayor of Castro Street, volunteer Tommy Buxton's laugh implying a joyous carnivalesque occasion, communion, reprieve-suggesting that public memory powerfully affords comfort, community, and politics.
Like those HMA volunteers on Castro Street, we hope in this book to deepen and circulate the public memory of Harvey Milk. During the 1970s, Milk passionately lived as an activist and visionary, community builder, stalwart and savvy campaigner, one of the first openly gay political officials in the United States. And Harvey Milk died with his boots on, a martyr-if not at the moment of his death, as some will quibble, than surely at the pronouncement of the unjust, undoubtedly homophobic, verdict in his assassin's trial. Public memory is fraught, mutable, forceful and consequential, and we believe it can be transformative in the lives of GLBTQ people, everyone. What Harvey Milk bequeaths in the pages that follow is An Archive of Hope.
Remembering Harvey Milk
If you knew and loved Harvey, as so many in San Francisco still did especially in those first years after his death, you likely took heart and pride in those enthusiastic efforts to kindle his legacy. Perhaps you donated money to the HMA that day in 1982 on Castro Street. Or perhaps you participated in one of the many Milk memorial events that had occurred in San Francisco and elsewhere in recent years: traveling aboard the "Gay Freedom Train" en route to "Avenge Harvey Milk!" at the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in October 19793; attending exhibits at the Gay Community Center and Castro Street Fair in 1979; watching photographer Crawford Barton's slide show at the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club annual Milk dinner in May 1980; browsing archival materials that accompanied the newly rededicated Harvey Milk/Eureka Valley Library in May 1981; reminiscing at the HMGDC Milk slide show and cocktail party in City Hall that same month; joining devoted throngs in the annual Milk/Moscone Memorial March; standing in line at Randy Shilts' book signings in 1982; celebrating at Harvey's annual birthday party on Castro Street. A bounty of Milk memory!
So much commemoration in those early years of Milk's afterlives, in fact, that you might have thought Frank Robinson, Milk's speechwriter and campaign advisor (named as one of only four potential successors in Milk's political will), unnecessarily concerned when he fretted in the inaugural 1983 issue of The Harvey Milk Archives Newsletter: "I do not know what Harvey's fate would have been if the Harvey Milk Archives had not been established. I am not sure what historians would have done, how they might have edited his speeches, how they might have subtly reshaped the past, how they might have interpreted the man who was the man who might have been."4
Robinson's insightful words should not be misunderstood as sentimental hero worship or hagiography. Archival materials and their consignation matter, always and profoundly, for histories and memories to survive and thrive, especially for those histories and memories that malignant individuals and institutions would readily consign to oblivion, and for those people who struggle for many reasons against manifold constraints to preserve and promulgate the past. Certainly this is true for GLBTQ histories and memories. Heather Love has written,
The queer past has long served a crucial role in the making of queer community. . . . The desires that queers have invested in the past have transformed it. There are, as a result, many queer pasts: Some versions glitter with the collective fantasies of greatness; others have been rubbed smooth by constant handling; some are obscure, having been forgotten or put away; other versions of the past have been rendered ghostly through the weight of accreted longing; and some are covered by shadows, forgotten traces of ways of life that many would rather leave behind.5
There are, we believe, many queer pasts in Harvey Milk, as varied and valuable, as vulnerable, as those pasts Love describes and Robinson cherishes. The Milk archive, in whatever forms it exists and may eventually take, should never be taken for granted.
The extensive, largely behind-the-scenes efforts during the 1980s and 1990s to amass and preserve Harvey Milk's words, images, and ephemera deserve greater visibility. Scott Smith, heir and executor of Milk's estate, who during their years as lovers, business partners, campaigners and confidants had done more than perhaps any other to influence Milk's transformation into the activist he became, devoted himself to cultivating and protecting Milk's legacy. He had help, too, from longtime friends and loyal supporters such as Frank Robinson, Danny Nicoletta, Anne Kronenberg, Jim Gordon, Linda Alband, Terry Henderling, Jim Rivaldo, Dick Pabich, Harry Britt, Denton Smith, Wayne Friday, Walter Caplan, John Wahl, John Ryckman, Alan Baird, Rich Nichols, Tom Randol, and Bob Ross, among others. After Scott Smith died in February 1995, some of those friends and associates contributed, culled, sorted, and inventoried materials in preparation for donation by Elva Smith, Scott's mother, to the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL). Correspondence suggests that negotiations among Elva Smith, co-executor Frank Robinson and the Ad Hoc Milk Archives Committee, and Jim Van Buskirk, Director of the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the SFPL, did not always proceed smoothly. Robinson's Letter to the Editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian in July 1995 offers a sense of these archival politics: "Political regimes change, so do library personnel, and the intent of the ad hoc group is to make sure that the Archives will be protected for the use and benefit of future generations."6 Nevertheless, The Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection was officially donated to the SFPL in 1995, and transferred to the library in 1997.7 It opened to the public in 2003.
Although for us this volume has been an enriching venture in GLBTQ memory work, which we hope readers will share, we should emphasize from the beginning that what we exhibit and narrate here-a substantial sample of transcribed documentary holdings representing Milk's typed, handwritten, recorded, and/or published words-constitutes but a fraction of Milk's public discourse. Many of Milk's public speeches and writings have been lost because they were originally performed extemporaneously or published in outlets now remote; some of that corpus remains extant if as-yet fully extracted in other archives and libraries, such as in microfilm series holdings of GLBTQ periodicals, objects and documents housed at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco or the ONE Institute in Los Angeles, or materials in private collections. Despite Milk's presentiments of early death and his poignant foresight to tape record a political will, he evidently was not much concerned with preserving or organizing his own archive for posterity; the state of his effects and affairs might fairly be described as chronically disheveled, casualty of a devotedly engaged public life. We have decided to predominantly feature, with just a handful of exceptions, documentary texts of Milk's public political discourse derived from the Harvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection at SFPL because of the concentration and diversity, history and symbolism of this archival cache. However, we have been keenly aware from the start of this project, and cumulatively so throughout its production, that the Milk materials at the SFPL, invaluable for what they do contribute to Milk and GLBTQ history and memory, are nevertheless incomplete and should and undoubtedly will be beneficially complemented and supplemented in the future.8
It is also the case, as these selected documents evidence, that the traces of Harvey Milk's actual public discourse-scribbled or typed, scratched out, stump recycled, always in motion-bear the marks of having been lived rather than packaged. Milk's words are sometimes fragmentary, typically unpolished, and occasionally banal. At the same time, they always crackle with his energetic engagement. We might usefully think of these addresses, columns, statements, press releases, fliers, and open letters as quotidian translations from a single emergently-public life; a locally situated if nationally aspirant gay street activist, consummate politician, and municipal official; a gay, white, Jewish, able-bodied, financially-strapped-but-middle-class man. These words are embedded in complex, multitudinous, and intersectional contexts that enabled or thwarted Harvey Milk's presence, resonance, meaning, and influence in the 1970s, in the United States, in California, in San Francisco, in District 5, in the Castro. We view such incomplete, tantalizing traces and echoes of distant times and larger stories, both inspirational and workaday texts, as rich public enactments of Milk memory. As importantly, they constitute invitations to conversation, debate, reflection, teaching, learning, collaboration, community building, intergenerational relationships, coalitional and oppositional politics-"how publics are formed in and through cultural archives"9-that inspire performative repertoires10 of GLBTQ pasts that will be queerly reconfigured as the future unpredictably unfolds.
We also have usefully come to realize that some fairly will ask, "Why Harvey Milk?" Not everyone, then or now, considers Milk a pioneer, an icon, as he himself did, remarking to the Associated Press about his election in November, 1977: "I can really appreciate what Jackie Robinson was up against. . . . Every black youth in the country was looking up to him. . . . He was a symbol to all of them. In the same way, I am a symbol of hope to gays and all minorities."11 Immodesty aside, Milk's claim on the GLBTQ pantheon might be rebuffed, or at least cause some bristling, despite his progressive populism and multi-issue advocacy, electoral success, visibility, assassination.12 As some have argued, Milk was, after all, a local politician who served less than a year in municipal office, and we will never know what he might have accomplished politically had he lived.13 Many in San Francisco thought him an arriviste. Drummer editor Jack Fritscher remembered that Milk was not well liked by many because he was "a political carpetbagger, because he was Manhattanizing laid-back San Francisco. He wasn't particularly cool. He was a New Yorker telling 'The City That Knows How' what to do in his 'Milk Forum' column in the Bay Area Reporter."14 Many inside and outside of San Francisco, such as Minnesota activist Stephen Endean, who would go on to direct the Gay Rights National Lobby and founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund, despised "Milk's manner-his ego, his abrasiveness, his insistence on doing things his way-[which] ground on Endean's Midwestern sensibilities, and also probably on his insecurities."15
There are also perspectives that help us account for Milk's legacy in relation to broader cultural and political contexts. Fritscher offers gay immigration, single-issue voting, and assassination as crucial factors: "He was elected because he was gay, not because he was 'Harvey Milk' . . . . Beyond even Harvey's control, he was swept up in a symbolic role in ritual politics. The convergence of his times, not his life, propelled him. His latter-day sainthood came through a martyrdom that could have happened to anyone playing the role of gay supervisor. It was his bad fortune that 'Tonight the role of gay supervisor will be played by Harvey Milk.'"16 Jonathan Bell more generally links historical visibility with place and contingent circumstance, observing that San Francisco's attention is chiefly attributable to "the flamboyance and media-consciousness of its politicians and its importance as a microcosm of the social movements that have come to form the bedrock of the rights revolution of recent times."17 From these vantages, Milk's posthumous renown should be understood as a complex production of his accomplishments, the where and when of his public life, the volume of his persona, his dramatic demise.
These challenges and contextualizations are important, and should shape any engagement with Milk's memory. We believe that they usefully complicate but do not disqualify a claim of Harvey Milk's significance, the value of his assembled words. Arguably what materially matters most in GLBTQ worldmaking, then and now, occurs locally, whatever broader sweep and circulation a figure or place or event might foment or by happenstance occasion in the aftermaths of activism. Most courageous GLBTQ activists since the first stirrings of political consciousness, during the arduous history of transformative acts and soundings, made a difference in particular spaces and sites, communities and forums, even as news of what they did, or they themselves, may have traveled. Milk remarked in 1978, "History is made by events . . . sometimes by large events with the world watching, but mostly by small events which plant the seeds of change. A reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of a building is widely covered. The events that started the American Revolution were the meetings in homes, pubs, on street corners."18 Milk's successor on the Board of Supervisors, Harry Britt, came to a similar conclusion about his political fecundity:
History will betray his own sense of who he was if we only remember him as a charismatic genius, a tragic figure wearing the face of a clown, a bigger-than-life model for gay pride. He was all that, of course, but the specialness of Harvey Milk was to be understood in terms of the specialness of San Francisco in the '70s and of the people whose hopes and dreams he was to take upon himself. . . . He could not have been what he was in an earlier period, or in another place. Most specifically, Harvey was a leader whose destiny was the destiny of Castro's Street People, a motley gang of alienated refugees from the struggle to assimilate to the homophobic mainstream of American life.19
Thus a world of difference might be found in those local queer details called Milk, sine qua non, inestimable.
Harvey Milk's words, too, teach us that successful activists speak locally, that the art of activist eloquence should be measured by the singularity of each ordinary persuasive opportunity, quotidian audience, fleeting performance. Milk's purple passages and stump clichΘs teach us that hope's discourse, at close hearing by real people, is by turns and toil both sublime and hackneyed in situ. And with each of those hit-or-miss moments of rhetorical invention and embodiment, with each handshake, with each overbearing exchange, shameless self-promotion, flirtation, corny joke, and lump-in-the-throat moment when he was on a roll, Milk brought the GLBTQ folk of San Francisco that much closer to sexual justice and freedom, to gay rights. Milk campaign staffer Jim Rivaldo remembered, "I accompanied Harvey around the city and saw how readily people from all walks of life responded to an openly gay man with good ideas and an extraordinary gift for communicating them."20
Of course Britt's reminiscence, and he is not alone in this, elevates Milk onto a larger stage. Such hyperbole should not surprise or trouble us, as it is the currency and glue of public memory and social movements, both always replete with the propulsive lore of gods and devils.21 Additionally, close associates of those inscribed into history and memory are often prone to flattering exaggeration. While wanting to avoid the distancing and distortion that comes with hagiography, we nevertheless believe Milk earned his inscription and our attention in GLBTQ history and memory by his contributions to gay rights writ large. Like GLBTQ activism itself during the 1970s, Milk was increasingly emerging on a national stage with expanding influence. During the spectacular historic fluctuations of GLBTQ fortunes during 1977, Milk proved himself a movement leader and subject of national press coverage. Rodger Streitmatter, in spirit if not letter, conveys Milk's growing reputation and influence: "If San Francisco was the capital of Gay America, Harvey Milk was president."22
In a 1978 interview, Boze Hadleigh asked Milk, "as the most visible gay politician, aren't you going to be in demand as a national spokesperson?" His response: "That's starting already. A few groups have asked . . . but I'm so busy as it is, there's no time."23 Nevertheless, during those few last months alive and working, Milk along with tireless and talented activists Sally Miller Gearhart, Gwen Craig, Bill Kraus and so many others, led the successful statewide campaign to defeat Prop 6, called the "Briggs Amendment" after its sponsor, state assemblyman John Briggs, which would ban gay teachers from the California school system. Clendinen and Nagourney explain, "The decisive defeat of the Briggs initiative on November 7  was the greatest electoral victory the gay rights movement in the United States had known. It conferred a particular aura of historical celebrity on Harvey Milk, and at the victory party in San Francisco that night, he called for a gay march on Washington in 1979."24 Assassinated 20 days later, Milk's place in the 1979 March for Lesbian and Gay Rights would be memorial, and thereafter sorting out and celebrating the historical contributions of the sanctified leader would be inevitably enhanced and muddled by the tropes of remembered martyrdom. The Chicago Tribune reported on November 30, 1978: "Milk, the leading avowed homosexual politician in California and perhaps the nation, will be especially missed. . . . 'Harvey Milk's assassination is a terrible blow to the gay-rights movement in this country,' said Robert McQueen, editor of The Advocate, San Francisco's leading gay newspaper. . . . [S]aid Harry Britt, one of Milk's closest friends and aides, 'Harvey Milk was the Martin Luther King of this nation's gay-liberation movement.'"25
Perhaps Ed Jackson was most insightful in capturing Milk's hold on the historical imagination when in his1984 review of Rob Epstein's documentary, he wrote, "The Times of Harvey Milk works powerfully on the viewer because of the Camelot-like resonances it sets off. On one level the story of one man's political career, it is also a morality tale about the dream of justice and the American faith in electoral politics. It traces the evolution of a populist hero who came to embody the hopes of an entire community, a hero tragically cut down in the prime of his political life."26 Whatever the measure, on the street or on the pedestal, we believe Harvey Milk is historically significant, worthy of archiving and anthologizing, deserving of memory, and most importantly, accessible and relevant for cultural and political purposes in which he can prove invigorating and troubling still, and perhaps lifesaving.
Harvey Milk: A Brief Political Genealogy
Given that Harvey Milk's public life did not begin until he was in his 40s, and once begun lasted less than a decade-only ten months, 18 days in office-it is a wonder that we should be bequeathed this archive. Indeed, it is a wonder such a public life began at all. Milk was not what most would consider destined for activism and politics. For most of his adult life Milk lived a quietly privileged domestic existence, passionately and monogamously devoted to his "marriages," his home, the opera and other arts in New York. Though in retrospect some might consider him closeted, which is not quite the case, it is fair to say that Milk's private life was compartmentalized. His professional choices-in the Navy, as a schoolteacher, and for years in the financial world- reflected and no doubt solidified this conservatism. To the extent that he was political at all, as chroniclers like to recall, Milk had proven himself to be a Goldwater Republican. One can imagine those who knew Milk during most of life, those unaware of his sexuality but also his former lover Joe Campbell, doing a double take as he began making headlines in, of all places, San Francisco.27
Milk had made one other dramatic transformation prior to emerging as the "Mayor of Castro Street," and this may make it difficult to fathom Milk as the formidable politician he would become. Owing to the times, a young lover named Jack McKinley, and an experimental theater visionary named Tom O'Horgan (Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Lenny), Milk had become a hippie. As Randy Shilts described it, "Milk found himself surrounded by some of the most outrageous flower children on the continent. Harvey started assimilating the new countercultural values, which spurned materialism, eschewed conformity, and mocked orthodoxy. With each month, Milk's hair became a little longer. With each political argument, his views became more flexible. With each new apartment, he discarded more of the tasteful furniture, stylish dΘcor, and middle-class comforts he had cherished."28 While briefly living in San Francisco in 1970, this Wall Street suit memorably burned his BankAmericard in response to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Two years later, with a new boyfriend named Scott Smith, Milk returned to California, flowers in his hair, roaming the state until finally settling for good in 1973 into a transitional neighborhood known by locals as Most Holy Redeemer Parish-what would become known as Castro Village and then, as now, the Castro.
Something queer was happening in San Francisco; indeed, it had been going on for quite some time. Always a haven for outsiders, San Francisco since World War II had become home to a sizeable population of GLBTQ people. Though more familiar for its 1970s blossoming, and overshadowed by mythic Stonewall, San Francisco should be remembered well for its much longer history of GLBTQ lives, cultures, and politics. In the 195os Hal Call formed a chapter of the Mattachine Society, and Del Martin Phyllis Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis, making the city a stronghold of homophile outreach. Jose Sarria, a drag institution at The Black Cat, who had tirelessly and resiliently stood up for his harassed, arrested, and beaten brothers, ran for Board of Supervisors in 1961, amassing 7000 votes more than a decade before Milk's audacious first political campaign. Sarria's voice sounded the clarion call of a developing movement comprised of the organizations formed during that decade, including the League for Civil Education, Tavern Guild, Society for Individual Rights, and the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. The protest press conference held by the CRH in response to shameful police disruption of the New Year's Day Ball in 1965, as well as the trans people and other queers who resisted police brutality at Compton's Cafeteria in August 1966, stand alongside Stonewall as transformative events in the burgeoning national movement for GLBTQ liberation, rights, and pride. California establishment politicians were already responding to these grassroots activists in the nascent politics for sexual justice before the New York "birth" of liberation on Christopher Street in 1969.29
What GLBTQ San Francisco had been through the 1960s, though significant, would not have led one to predict the massive influx of immigrants and the expansion of cultures and politics in the subsequent decade.30 John D'Emilio observes, "By the mid-1970s San Francisco had become, compared to the rest of the country, a liberated zone for lesbians and gay men."31 Such growth was enabled by changing economic and demographic landscape of the city. San Francisco's transformation from a manufacturing center into a metropolis of corporate headquarters, tourism and conventions, depleted the population blue-collar straight families in the many ethnic neighborhoods; consequently, it also enticed young professionals who found inexpensive housing in places like the Castro. Development politics were fraught, and the tensions flared throughout the 1970s and beyond, inside and outside GLBTQ communities.32 With San Francisco's development, however, accompanied by a growing reputation for sexual freedom, a GLBTQ homeland blossomed. D'Emilio explains that communities rapidly grew in a number of neighborhoods-Castro, Polk Street, Tenderloin, South of Market, Folsom St., Upper Mission and Bernal Heights-constituting a "new social phenomenon, residential areas that were visibly gay in composition."33
With such visibility came more immigrants, social and sexual networks and spaces, communications, businesses, civic groups, political organizations, movement mobilization and action, public festivals and celebrations. Reporting on the "economic boom" and "political clout" of GLBTQ San Francisco during the 1970s, the Washington Post concluded that it was the "most open of any [homosexual community] in the nation." Frances FitzGerald described the Castro as the "imminent realization" of gay liberation, "the first gay settlement, the first true gay 'community,' and as such it was a laboratory for the movement. It served as a refuge for gay men, and a place where they could remake their lives; now it was to become a model for the new society-'a gay Israel,' as someone once put it." Danny Nicoletta's recollection is equally effusive: "Into the Seventies, people arrived in San Francisco from all over the world with hopes of creating a life characterized by the consciousness attributed to the Sixties communal, holistic, non-violent, mystical, theatrical, and avant-garde. A facet of this idealism for myself and many others was that we were people who were gay searching for a place to be open and honest about this part of our lives-a place without fear of the hatred and persecution which had kept us in closets for so long."34
With such concentration, circulation, capital and confidence, GLBTQ people also developed politically. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on its front page in 1971, "San Francisco's populous homosexual community, historically nonpolitical and inward looking, is in the midst of assembling a potentially powerful political machine."35 With the first gay rights marches, creation of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club, Jim Foster's pathbreaking speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1972, and thriving lesbian-feminist communities, one might readily have believed the Chronicle's hyperbole, which became all the more manifest as the decade unfolded. Jonathan Bell's incisive analysis demonstrates that a broader confluence of contextual elements in California politics dating back more than a decade enabled such queer auspiciousness. From Bell's perspective, left liberalism guided a generation of influential and ascending politicians who fused economic and civil rights in a progressive vision of inclusion; politicians who were influenced by and collaborated with grassroots activists and who helped create the conditions under which such disenfranchised groups could make gains through electoral politics. This is not to say that Willie Brown, George Moscone, Phil Burton, Dianne Feinstein, Richard Hongisto, and other key political players of the era were unfettered champions of or exclusively responsible for gay rights, as Harvey Milk's critiques of superficial campaign courtship and battles with "the Machine" would later demonstrate. However, this analysis does help explain the conditions of possibility, "the distinctive contours of political life in San Francisco in the 1970s," within and through which Milk could emerge, mature, and ultimately succeed as a gay rights and community activist with a populist vision articulated through the discourses of economic justice, individual rights, political power, solidarity and coalition.36
But of course it was not only because San Francisco existed as the "political base" and "spiritual home of California liberalism" that GLBTQ people flourished.37 The intensifying, intensely satisfying, and interanimating dimensions of cultures and politics forged identification and identity, cultivated affective and emotional bonds, deepened communities, fomented movement, and resulted in the sexual embodiment of freedom. Especially for gay men such freedom was made all the more available and fluid by proliferating and booming bars, bathhouses, and clubs. With such growth came inevitable tensions, and there have been critiques, for example, of the gay male sexual culture.38 However, sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong argues persuasively that those committed to gay rights (interest group politics and legal protections), gay pride (cultural identity and visibility), and sexual pleasure (its enactment and commercialization) created a synergistic movement of "unity through diversity."39 Armstrong observes that, "The political logic of identity made it possible to reconcile pride, rights, and sexual expression,"40 despite differences among and the uniqueness of individuals, that solidified in economic power, political influence, and a sense of the collective instantiated through pleasure.
Significant, too, is the still broader context of national culture and politics, as well as the larger gay rights movement. Bruce Schulman writes in The Seventies, "[T]he emphasis on diversity, on cultural autonomy and difference, echoed throughout 1970s America. White ethnics picked it up, as did feminists and gay rights advocates and even the elderly. A new conception of the public arena emerged."41 Contrary to narratives about cultural reversals and moribund activism, Dominic Sandbrook argues, "For all the efforts of the religious right and for all the talk of backlash against the legacy of the sixties, the fact remains that in moral and cultural terms, American society became steadily more permissive. More marriages broke up, more pregnancies were terminated, more children were born out of wedlock, and more gays and lesbians came out. In this respect at least, liberalism not only survived the 1970s but emerged triumphant."42 Moreover, GLBTQ activism in particular should be understood as not only a legacy of the "long sixties" but as a distinctive influence on U.S. culture. Schulman goes so far as to conclude that, "The gay rights movement transformed Americans' understanding of homosexuality, and of masculinity in general"; elsewhere he wrote, "Looking back . . . it is clear that the grassroots struggles for racial justice and sexual equality have exerted a more thoroughgoing impact than the liberal political economy of the Great Society."43
Such superlative assessments are warranted by hard-earned achievements of GLBTQ people and organizations, and the widening visibility that came with them. The often-cited Time cover story, "Gays on the March," from September 1975 remarked on the transformation:
There are now more than 800 gay groups in the U.S., most of them pressing for state or local reforms. The Advocate, a largely political biweekly tabloid for gays, has a nationwide circulation of 60,000, and the National Gay Task Force has a membership of 2,200. . . . Since homosexuals began to organize for political action six years ago, they have achieved a substantial number of victories. Eleven state legislatures have followed Illinois in repealing their anti-sodomy laws. The American Psychiatric Association has stopped listing homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, and ATT, several other big corporations and the Civil Service Commission have announced their willingness to hire openly avowed gays.44
Little wonder, then, that even as the movement shifted from the brief revolution of gay liberation to the mainstay of gay rights reform (growing in numbers while contracting its agenda to single-issue politics). Like other GLBTQ people, John D'Emilio, himself both chronicler and activist, rode high on the collective effervescence: "The goals of activists had narrowed, yet activists in the mid-1970s almost uniformly displayed an Θlan that made them feel as if they were mounting the barricades. Activists increasingly engaged in routinized and mundane organizational tasks, yet they believed they were remaking the world."45
Harvey Milk emerged from within these layered political and cultural contexts, reflecting them but also, improbably, harnessing their energies and promises into a unique activist vision that would help define the rest of decade, locally and nationally, as an epoch in GLBTQ history. Of course, Milk did not commence his political career as the leader he would become. He began it quite sparsely and unremarkably in the spring of 1973 in his newly opened Castro Camera at 575 Castro Street. The always threadbare business, which kept Milk in the financial straits to which he had not been accustomed during his earlier life, seems destined to the storied political front and headquarters it became. The real work of Castro Camera and its regulars focused not on rolls of film but on people, their freedoms, struggles, and neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Although Milk's deeper political inclinations may be attributable, by his own accounting, to the 1943 Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and his 1947 arrest as a teenager in Central Park for "indecent exposure," Milk often identified three moral shocks46 in 1973 as effecting his awakening, and sparking his first campaign for Board of Supervisors, the 11-member body representing San Francisco's consolidated city-county government. First, shortly after Castro Camera opened Milk had a heated altercation with a local bureaucrat who demanded a $100 deposit against sales tax in order for the business to operate, which seemed to him an outrageous violation of free enterprise and symptom of class inequity. Second, Milk blanched at the disparity between haves and have-nots in this "developing" city, disparity which appeared proximately in the form of a young teacher from a resource-strapped school asking if she could borrow a slide projector to teach her lessons. Finally, Milk had a visceral response to Attorney General John Mitchell's mendacious and evasive testimony during the Watergate Hearings, which he watched animatedly on a portable TV in the shop. Shortly thereafter, standing on a crate inscribed with the word "soap," Milk launched his first candidacy.47
A more auspicious political debut, short of winning, is hard to imagine. Perhaps especially so given the long odds Harvey Milk faced as an unknown newcomer, both to the city and to politics, with the wrong look and surprisingly fierce opposition. For starters, there was that ponytail few could ignore, the signature symbol of his troubling hippie persona. Milk was also openly and unabashedly gay, which, needless to say, for an at-large candidate in a citywide election battling five incumbents, made for a political liability.48 We should r