Page 43 - Fyne SUMMER2012-proof

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Milk’s new lover, Jack McKinley, was severely
depressed and craved attention, often using threats
of suicide. Nevertheless, Milk decided to follow
McKinley when he moved to San Francisco. The
couple settled in Castro Street. Once a working class
Irish area, the newly sprung suburbs had pulled
families away from Castro Street leaving it somewhat
of a real estate ghost town. Free-living hippies started
to snap up the cheap properties and the area had
become massively liberal. After the Second World
War, disgraced gay soldiers decided to settle there too
and with the opening of a gay bar, Castro Street had
sealed its reputation as the USA’s gayest location. The
relationship with McKinley did not last, but Milk had
fallen in love with the area and decided to stay in the
Castro district.
Living in such a gay area, it wasn’t long before
another love entered Milk’s life. Scott Smith was 18
years his junior and was attracted by Milk’s hippie
outlook on life. Together, they pooled the last of their
money and opened a small photographic shop called
Castro Cameras. Being his own boss suited Milk. But
soon after opening, he was hit with a $100 business
deposit. He was furious and refused to pay. The
matter went to court and he won a 50% reduction.
However, Milk was still left despondent with local
Government. And so at the age of 40 and with no
previous political ambitions, Milk decided to run for
area supervisor. Despite his efforts he just missed out
on one of the supervisor jobs.
But Milk had got a taste for politics. He shaved off
his moustache and cut his hair as well as filling his
wardrobe with suits and ties. Castro Cameras became
the HQ for his political efforts and buzzed with
volunteers coming and going. His second attempt
to run for supervisor failed by a small margin, but
noticing Milk’s clout with the local blue collar
workers, the local mayor, George Moscone, offered
him a job as a commissioner.
Milk hadn’t dwelt on gay issues in any of his politics
but when two local gay businessmen were refused
a trading licence simply because of their sexuality,
he decided to do something, and set up the Castro
Village Association. Another cause came along soon
after when Christian politician John Briggs launched
a bill banning gays and lesbians from all teaching and
governmental jobs in the area. Appalled, ex-teacher
Milk rallied support and stood as a candidate again.
This time, he got in.
At last he was a politician and he was celebrated as
the first openly gay elected official ever and his new
boyfriend - Jack Lira- was often by his side. He took
his position seriously and became the voice of gays
in San Francisco. But opposition was around every
corner, especially from a fellow supervisor named Dan
White. White was an ex police officer and gave up a
position as a fireman to become a politician. Although
the two initially got on, there was an early falling out
between them over the location of a mental health
institution. Ever after, White would viciously oppose
the campaigns Milk stood for.
At home, things were not good. Jack’s drinking
had become a problem and Milk was considering a
break-up. When Milk was at work one day, Jack
demanded he came home to talk about things. When
Milk arrived, he found Jack had hanged himself. The
matter was very upsetting, but Milk didn’t take much
time off to grieve as there was still important work to
be done.
Milk’s continued opposition to Brigg’s bill also put
him in the line of fire. Death threats started to arrive
but Milk carried on making public appearances and
speeches. His most famous appearance was at San
Francisco Freedom Day when he spoke publicly about
a young gay man and the problems he faced. He ended
the short speech with the simple line ‘you’ve got to
give them hope’. The phrase became a rallying cry
for the gay movement in California and after a lot of
pressure, the bill was voted against by a majority of
Meanwhile, Dan White walked out of his job saying
it did not earn enough to support his family. Then
a few days later he returned and asked for his job
back. Mayor Moscone said he would consider it, but
after advice from his supervisors (including Milk), he
decided to not let White back. Half an hour before
the press conference he had called to announce who
the new superintendant was, White slipped into City
Hall with a gun and several rounds of ammunition.
He went directly to the mayor’s office and pleaded
for his job back. When he was told ‘no’ again, White
took out the gun and shot him. Next he set off down
the corridor heading for Milk’s office. They met in
a corridor and he asked Milk to step into a nearby
room. It was there that White shot Milk, killing him
A massive vigil accompanied the death of Milk. The
gay community’s shock turned to rage when White
was only sentenced to serve five years. A riot raged
for several hours during which up to 100 activists
were hurt. White served his sentence, but he only
lived for a year and a half on the outside before taking
his own life.