By now, most of us have seen the Academy Award-wining film, Milk. While Milk presented a much-untold history, the true impact of this film is now being measured by the vast numbers of young people who found the courage to come out after seeing it, and in conversations about historic LGBT contributions around the globe.
It was on this day, 33 years ago, former Republican San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White took a gun to City Hall. He climbed through a lower-level window to avoid metal detectors and proceeded to Mayor George Moscone’s office. White had resigned his office and went into Moscone’s office hoping to be re-appointed to the seat he’d resigned from. When Moscone refused, White shot and killed him. With extra ammunition, he proceeded to the office of Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to be elected to a major city office. White proceeded to shoot Milk 5 times – the final two shots had White pressing his gun directly at Milk’s skull according to the medical examiner.
Harvey Milk had pre-recorded a message after receiving several anti-gay death threats during his political career. The message said “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.” Dan White went on to be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. Despite White’s later statements that he was “on a mission” and “wanted to kill four of them,” he was not found guilty of pre-meditating anything due to his poor diet.
White’s lawyers claimed that while usually a healthy man, White had been consuming many sugary foods, which led to his mental state. This became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” White went on to serve just 5 years of the very lenient 7 year sentence. 2 years later, White committed suicide by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to inside his car.
Following the guilty verdict, men and women rioted outside San Francisco City Hall. Hours after the riots had ended, Police made a retaliatory raid on the streets of the Castro District and the Elephant Walk Bar (now renamed ‘Harvey’s”). Two dozen arrests were made during that raid and the riots, and in the following weeks, after being called upon to apologize, gay leaders refused. The political leverage gained from these events led to the election of Mayor Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein then appointed a pro-gay chief of police who actively recruited gays into the city’s police force.
Dianne Feinstein, who is now a U.S. Senator, is leading the way for LGBT equality by sponsoring the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).