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Harvey Milk Day celebrates the legacy of beloved gay activist

Harvey Milk at the Gay Pride Parade June 23, 1978. | Terry Schmitt / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Harvey Milk Day 

12 – 5 p.m.
Jane Warner Plaza at the intersection of Castro, 17th and Market streets

On what would have been Harvey Milk’s 92nd birthday, the Castro and LGBTQ+ San Franciscans will come together to honor the legacy of the pioneering San Francisco politician and fallen LGBTQ+ activist starting at noon on Sunday.

The day named after Milk—who was California’s first openly gay elected official and tragically assassinated after just 11 months in office—features remembrances from friends and colleagues who knew him well, remarks from local queer politicians, and a block party. Beats by BAAAHS (short for the Burning Man mobile disco outfit Big-Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep) and DJs Carnita, Nico, and Bus Station John keep things moving after the noon opening ceremonies. The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band and Queer Chorus of San Francisco also stop by for musical performances. Drag personality Dulce De Leche emcees, and the block party starts at 1 p.m. 

City Hall is seen lit by lights in the colors of a rainbow on the evening that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted California's stay on same-sex marriage on Friday, June 28, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo By Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

With nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation filed in 2022 as of March, Jeffrey Kwong, vice president of events and fundraising for the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club which is organizing the day’s commemorations and festivities, notes that Harvey Milk Day is a good opportunity for a “new generation” to learn about Milk’s legacy. 

“The times of Harvey Milk are closer to 2022 than we think, so it’s a time for us to remember the words of Harvey,” Kwong said. “It’s a good moment for remembrance and celebration.” 

In honor of the day, the Castro Theatre, which premiered the Oscar-winning 1984 documentary about Milk’s political rise, “The Times of Harvey Milk,” will screen a restored 35mm version of that film at 11 a.m. “The Ruth Brinker Story,” a documentary about the founder of the HIV/AIDS food aid nonprofit Project Open Hand will follow at 2 p.m. A double feature with both films screens at 3 p.m. All screenings are free, but seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you miss those, a special benefit screening of “The Ruth Brinker Story” happens at 6 p.m., followed by a VIP after-party. Tickets are $50 in advance.  

Harvey Milk (1930 - 1978), of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, sits outside his camera shop in San Francisco, November 9, 1977. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” Milk became a vocal activist after opening a camera shop in the Castro and was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was instrumental in the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement and passing city legislation that banned discrimination in public accommodations, housing and employment based on a person’s sexual orientation. Tragically, Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone were shot by disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White on Nov. 27, 1978. 

Despite his tragic assassination, Milk continues to be celebrated as an advocate of human rights and LGBTQ+ equality throughout the city—from the Castro’s Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy to Harvey Milk Plaza to the beloved bar Harvey’s. City Hall will also light up in rainbow colors in honor of Harvey Milk Day on May 22.