Tom Daley
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LGBTQ Politicians Weigh in on the Meaning of Milk

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As a lesbian activist in the 1970s, I watched Harvey Milk’s run for office with intense interest, inspired by his determination to be an out and proud elected official when most hesitated to even declare their sexual orientation openly. When he was elected, I celebrated, and when five bullets cut his life tragically short, I mourned. He was the most prominent of the out LGBTQ elected officials, which at that time could be counted on one hand. His death was frightening, because all of us activists faced frequent threats and knew that forces of hate were determined to keep us down. But it was galvanizing as well, knowing it was our duty to add meaning to Harvey’s sacrifice.

When I lost my second race for city council as an openly lesbian candidate, I questioned whether I would ever run again. It was re-watching The Times of Harvey Milk and re-reading his biography that helped me understand how he coped with his campaign losses. It gave me insight and courage – and I won my next nine races, including three terms as mayor of Houston.

Four decades later, our community lives in an America that Harvey only dreamed of – an America making painfully slow but determined progress toward equality, and one where qualified LGBTQ leaders can run for office and be elected at some of the highest levels of government. It is difficult to imagine Harvey’s reaction to an election cycle being dubbed the “Rainbow Wave,” as this one has, given how isolated he was when he embarked on his historic run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. I wish he were here to see it.

In this series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, newly elected officials honor his legacy with their thoughts on what Harvey Milk symbolizes and means to them. Some of these leaders will be entering elected office for the first time, and others were just elected to new higher-level positions where they can make even more significant change.

After winning elected office for the first time, Harvey said: “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.”

Hope, and the desire to serve, is exactly what these newly elected officials bring to our community and their constituents. I hope you enjoy their insights.

-President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund Annise Parker

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