"Hope will never be silent."
-Harvey Milk '51

Let's celebrate Harvey Milk '51!

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.

Harvey Milk smiling and wearing a suite and tie with a campaign pin.

"You gotta give 'em hope."

Milk's path to politics



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.

A champion for marginalized communities

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.

On Nov. 27, 1978, a disgruntled former city supervisor, Dan White, climbed through a basement window of City Hall with .38 revolver stuck in his belt. He went to Mayor George Moscone’s office, angry about not being reinstated as a supervisor. Moscone tried to calm White by pouring two drinks and asking him about his family but it didn’t help – White pulled out the gun and shot the mayor. He then walked down the hall and assassinated Milk, who he knew helped persuade Mascone not to rehire him. That night, a crowd of thousands spontaneously came together on Castro Street and marched to City Hall in a silent candlelight vigil that has been recognized as one of the most eloquent responses to violence that a community has ever expressed.

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.

The beginnings at UAlbany

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.

A team photo of the UAlbany softball team with Harvey Milk.
Harvey Milk (second row, second from right kneeling) was an avid sportsman during his time at UAlbany. He participated in intercollegiate wrestling and played intramural softball.
The Zanchelli wedding party.
Harvey Milk served as a groomsman (pictured above, left) at the wedding of classmates Joseph Zanchelli, BA ‘49, MA ‘50, and Joyce (Leavitt) Zanchelli ‘52.
“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.”
—Joseph Zanchelli

Legacy at UAlbany

Harvey House wall and entrance.

Harvey House offers welcoming living space for LGBTQ+ students.

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."
—Jake Evans '22, founder of Harvey House

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.

What Harvey Milk means to students.

"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

The Harvey Milk Alumnus Award

A table of awards given during UAlbany's Lavender Graduation.

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.

Michael Boots
Phillip Burse '04
Gloria DeSole '59, PhD '69
Charles Lickel '77
Kristin McCallum '13
Denise Norris

Gary Pavlic
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.”
—Courtney D’Allaird, coordinator of the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at UAlbany

Harvey Milk's impact on the world

San Francisco airport has a new state-of-the-art terminal named in honor of Harvey Milk.
The Harvey Milk Stamp was issued in 2014.
In 1978 Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker to come up with a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community. The pride flag was born!
In 1999, Milk was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century.
Medal of Freedom presentation, August 2009
Harvey Milk Day is organized by the Harvey Milk Foundation and celebrated each year on May 22.
The life and career of Harvey Milk have been the subjects of an opera, books, and films. These include the Shilts's biography, The Mayor of Castro Street (1982); the Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk by Robert Epstein (1884); and the Gus Van Sant directed drama Milk (2008).
A navy ship named for Harvey Milk was launched in November 2021. Milk served in the navy from 1951-55.
Harvey Milk Plaza is located at the intersection of Castro & Market Streets in San Francisco. Milk lived and worked on Castro Street and is famous for leading soapbox political rallies at the plaza. This rendering of the space is an effort led by The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza to reimagine the area.

“I’m sure my uncle’s time at UAlbany had a big influence on him...

At my grandfather’s funeral, Harvey talked with me about how my college years would be a time where I would develop my individual gifts, where I would find my passion and purpose, where I would discover my own self-acceptance of my differences, where I would find fertile ground and would ‘begin to be supported to grow strong roots that allow you to sustain yourself in many of life’s storms.’ He wrote that to me in a letter the week after that talk.”

—Stuart Milk, nephew and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation

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.

Harvey Milk next to a sign that reads "Don't let it happen here. Register to vote."

Special thanks to

  • The Harvey Milk Foundation
  • Stuart Milk
  • San Francisco Public Library
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza
  • The Gender & Sexuality Resource Center
  • Courtney D’Allaird
  • Jake Evans
Photos and Video:
  • Terry Schmitt
  • Daniel Nicoletta
  • Steve Johnson/Unsplash
  • Patrick Dodson, BA '12
  • Paul Miller, MA '21
  • Videvo
    Marty Hardin