Tomorrow, May 22, would have been Harvey Milk's 80th birthday, and despite not having lived to see his 50th, what he accomplished in his few years in public life remains nothing short of extraordinary.
Milk was much more than a clever coalition-builder and a pragmatic politician.
He was a veteran of the Korean War, a teacher and a small business owner. As the unofficial "Mayor of Castro Street," a predominantly gay neighborhood of San Francisco, he united labor unions and ethnic minorities to revitalize and rebuild their struggling communities. And as the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California, he inspired millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and others facing discrimination across the country.
And Milk did all of this at a time when the forces of hatred and bigotry caused many to live their personal lives in secret. He had the courage to stand up, live his life openly, and challenge people to judge him first on his ability to get the job done.
Harvey Milk understood that bigotry of any form is not only divisive and hurtful to the individual, it is destructive to the very communities we seek to build in our cities. He knew intuitively that an anti-gay remark isn't just anti-LGBT, it's anti-black, anti-Latino, and anti-Semitic too.
Milk once said: "All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential."
So, this Saturday, as we remember Harvey Milk and celebrate his legacy on the first Annual Harvey Milk Day, let us remember what Milk stood for: equality for all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
I am proud that the State of California and City of Los Angeles have declared May 22 Harvey Milk Day. In Los Angeles, we're honoring this hero's incredible legacy by turning the event into a Day of Service.
Harvey Milk dedicated his life to serving his community and bringing people from all backgrounds together to work for the common good. To honor his memory, courage, and commitment to his fellow citizens, I encourage you to volunteer in your community this Saturday.
To do my part, I pledge to hold a day of service every year to commemorate Harvey Milk and to continue his legacy of community engagement and service. I hope you'll join me.
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