Happy Harvey Milk Day: What Milk Meant to the API Community

Today on May 22nd, California will honor Harvey Milk with the First Annual Harvey Milk Day for his courageous leadership and conviction. Some of my friends will be celebrating his legacy in San Francisco at the Castro District where he got his start. Suffice to say, this event is going to be huge and I can only wish that I was with them celebrating this momentous day.

“But who is Harvey Milk,” some of you may ask.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected in 1977 to public office in California and thus making him one of the nation’s first openly LGBT elected officials. This achievement is absolutely incredible because if you thought being gay was tough now, it was a whole different world over 30 years ago. During that time, politicians would publicly declare on national television that being a homosexual was a disease and it was because of these homosexuals that the American family structure was being jeopardized. These opinions were widely accepted by the American public and severely placed a burning magnifying glass over the LGBT communities across the nation.

Harvey Milk decided that someone needed to step up and fight back against the prejudice and hatred America was enveloping itself towards the LGBT communities. From his passion to make a change, circumstances would propel Milk to become that voice to fight back. In the next few years, Milk would take advantage of the growing political and economic power of the neighborhood to promote his interests in running for office. Despite growing support, he ran unsuccessfully for political office three times. On 1977, Milk finally won a seat as city supervisor in 1977 and held office for eleven months. During this time, he worked tirelessly to pass a gay rights ordinance for the city and the passion and fire that he possessed was only just beginning to unfold. But on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk was assassinated and his dreams were cut short.

Despite his death, Harvey Milk inspired countless people to stand up against injustice. His legacy will live on and with the First Annual Harvey Milk Day, his fire still burns brightly as ever.

Harvey Milk was a man who spoke and fought for the people who helped put him in office, “the gays, the blacks, the Asians, the seniors, the disabled — the us’s,” he called them. One of his closest advisors was Michael Wong, a Chinese American activist and friend of Harvey’s. One time, Wong had a huge argument with Milk over Harvey’s declared intention to endorse Wong’s political nemesis, an old-school leader of the Chinatown machine. Wong demanded to know why and Harvey responded:

“You gotta look at the big picture, Michael,” explained Milk. “If San Francisco’s Asian and gay communities can just find a way to work together, we’ll hold all the cards. Give us 10 years, and we’ll control politics in this city.”

Which brings me to why Harvey Milk is so important, not just to the LGBT community but to all minorities across the nation. Too often, our communities are guilty of preaching to the choir and only supporting our own people without reaching out to build bridges with other communities. Yes, our communities are different but each and every single one of us have ties that bind us together. Once we start focusing on building support, we will be a force to be truly reckoned with. This is important more than ever now with the recent turn of events in our nation.

Harvey Milk fought for his LGBT community and all who have been mistreated and suffered by society. His scope expanded beyond just his own community and it is something that I take tremendous inspiration from. For me, I know that my love will always be toward my Asian American community (and quite a huge family as I wrap my arms around the West/East/Southeast/South Asian diaspora) but I am continuously reaching out and learning from other communities to make me a better social justice activist and ultimately, a better person.

With that being said, happy Harvey Milk Day everybody.

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About Edward

Edward Hong is an actor and spoken poet. Passion to make a change in this world through the performing arts and activism defines his ongoing life and it is the struggle against all things unjust that gives him this passion to be one heck of a talkative, stubborn man. It, however, does not mean he strives to be a champion or role model of any community but to be the man who will be honest and say the things nobody will have the balls to say. He is the jester who is outspoken in what he believes in most passionately and therefore cannot be pinpointed that he will do what you expect him to do.
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