He was a visionary civil and human rights leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. Harvey Milk, class of 1951, made a indelible impact on his community, this country and the world.
Born in Woodmere, N.Y.
Attended UAlbany (then known as the New York State College for Teachers)
Served in the U.S. Navy as a diving instructor, until he resigned after being questioned about his sexual orientation
Returned to New York and worked as a teacher, stock analyst and production associate for Broadway musicals
Moved to San Francisco and opened a camera store on Castro street in the heart of the city’s growing gay community.
Ran for San Francisco Board of Supervisors and lost.
Founded the Castro Village Association which advocated for LGBT businesses in the area—the first of its kind.
Narrowly lost a second bid for the combined San Francisco/County supervisor but had established himself as the leading political spokesperson for the Castro neighborhood’s gay community.
Ran a third time and won, becoming one of the first openly gay elected officials in a major U.S. city.
Milk made an effective and popular supervisor because of his commitment to serving a broad constituency, not just LGBT people. His ambitious reform agenda included protecting gay rights, establishing day care centers for working mothers, converting military facilities in the city to low-cost housing, reforming the tax code to attract industry to deserted warehouses and factories, and other issues. In addition, he spoke out on state and national issues of interest to LGBT people, women, racial and ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities.
One of these issues was a California ballot initiative, Proposition 6, which would have mandated the firing of gay teachers in the state’s public schools. With strong, effective opposition from Milk and others, it was defeated at a time when other political attacks on gay people were being successfully waged around the United States.
Despite Milk’s passing, his progressive politics created a legacy of gay tolerance in San Francisco and a model for gay rights advocacy nationwide. The life and career of Harvey Milk have been the subjects of books, films and an opera. There are several public schools named after him as well as a federal building, a navy ship, an airport terminal, a public library, a public plaza and much more.
While at UAlbany, Milk was a sports reporter for State College News, a member of the Jewish fraternity Kappa Beta and active in student government, including an unsuccessful run for freshman class president that was one of his earliest forays into politics. Milk was a competitive intramural basketball, volleyball and softball player and wrestled on the intercollegiate team. He was also known for being outspoken — a trait that would later become a hallmark of his public life — and a prankster.
“He was a fun guy with a good sense of humor, very intelligent and quite the jokester. He was on our softball team and, though not a star player, he enjoyed challenging the umpires. When Joyce and I asked him to be an usher at our wedding in 1951 he readily accepted and used his charm to escort the 'old ladies' down the aisle.”
A new housing option opened on Dutch Quad in the Fall of 2021 to intentionally support and affirm the cultural experiences of queer and transgender students. The creation of the Harvey House, named after Harvey Milk ’51, began with a vision from UAlbany student Jake Evans.
"I've always looked up to Harvey Milk and everything he's done. The idea was that these students should have a place that's explicitly for them so that they can succeed and thrive."
Though the University already has gender-inclusive housing options in most residential living spaces, Harvey House offers events and programs while bringing people together in a multi-floor residential community.
"His election was a true turning point for politics, civil liberties and human rights. I am proud to be a part of the institution that he once went to during his lifetime." —Sharese
"[Harvey Milk] is the reason Pride is colorful... and the reason the rainbow flag is a symbol of hope, love, pride, happiness." —Eoghan
"His story brings hope for more queer people in politics..." —Melody
"He reminds me that there can be success when the world still sees you as an enemy." — Jonas
This award is given to a University alum who, upon leaving the University, makes substantial contributions to social justice issues in their work and/or community involvement. The award is bestowed each spring at UAlbany’s Lavender Graduation: a celebration of our LGBTQ+ and allied student scholars.
Phillip Burse '04
Gloria DeSole '59, PhD '69
Charles Lickel '77
Kristin McCallum '13
Libby Post '82, MA '84
David A. Rozen, Esq. '07
Ron Simmons '72, MA '78
Joe Valentino '89
Nora Yates '99, MA '00
“Harvey’s story has been a guiding beacon of our work here in the GSRC. First the simple message of hope is how the GSRC started. However the larger vision of the “US’s” united, across race, gender, class, disability, sexuality and so much more. That is the true hope for a better world that Harvey spoke of.”
Stuart Milk, co-founder of the Milk Foundation is dedicated to realizing Harvey Milk’s vision of equality and authenticity for everyone, everywhere. To learn more visit milkfoundation.org.