10 Heroic Facts About Harvey Milk

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 1977, a charismatic camera shop owner named Harvey Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The triumph made him the first openly gay man elected to public office in the state of California, and one of the first openly gay individuals to hold public office in all of America. Although the race was a local one, Milk had a nationwide influence on the LGBTQ rights movement—both in life and in death.

1. As a young man, Harvey Milk worked on Wall Street—and Broadway.

Harvey Milk was a man of many interests. Born in Woodmere, New York, on May 22, 1930, Milk adored opera, played multiple sports, and wrote student newspaper columns at his alma mater, the New York College for Teachers (now known as SUNY Albany). Graduating with the class of 1951, Milk built up an impressive resume: Wall Street research analyst, public school teacher, and associate Broadway producer were among the various job titles he earned before relocating to San Francisco in 1972.

2. The Vietnam War changed Harvey Milk’s political ideology.

When Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, he ran as a Democrat. Yet his earlier forays into politics were on the other side of the aisle. More than a decade earlier, Milk had been recruited to work on Republican Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. It was the Vietnam War that transformed his politics. "The day Nixon invaded Cambodia was the day I had to speak out against war profiteers, large corporations and so forth," Milk told NBC News in 1978. "And so I got rid of my Wall Street career … and when I walked through that door, I kept walking.”

3. Harvey Milk became known as "The Mayor of Castro Street.”

By the time Milk put his stamp on San Francisco's Castro Street, the famed street—and its surrounding district—had already become a hub for the city’s gay community. In 1973, Milk and his then-partner opened Castro Camera, a small photo development shop which turned into a neighborhood gathering spot. Milk used the store as his campaign headquarters during all of his public office bids, which ultimately earned him the nickname “The Mayor of Castro Street.”

4. Harvey Milk and the San Francisco Teamsters union worked together to organize a beer boycott.

Ted Sahl, Kat Fitzgerald, Patrick Phonsakwa, Lawrence McCrorey, Darryl Pelletier, Wikimedia//CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1973, half a dozen large beer distributors collectively refused to hire union truck drivers. So the following summer, Allan Baird of the San Francisco Teamsters Union asked Milk to convince the city’s gay bars to take part in a mass boycott of those companies. Milk happily agreed, stating: “If we in the gay community want others to help us in our fight against discrimination, then we must help others in their fights." With Milk's help, San Francisco's gay-owned bars blacklisted the distributors, causing five of them to reverse their stances on union drivers.

5. Harvey Milk wasn’t the only LGBTQ politician to find success in the 1970s.

Milk's political success didn't happen overnight. Prior to the 1977 election, Milk had unsuccessfully mounted two previous campaigns for a San Francisco Board of Supervisors seat, and also failed to get himself elected as a California State Assemblyman. Milk wasn’t the first open member of the LGBTQ community to win an American election, however. That honor goes to Kathy Kozachenko, who was voted on to the City Council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1974. Then came Elaine Noble, the first openly gay candidate to hold a statewide office in the U.S. She earned this distinction by joining the Massachusetts General Assembly in 1975.

6. Harvey Milk helped kill a state initiative that would have banned LGBTQ teachers.

After being sworn into office on January 8, 1978, Milk quickly threw himself into the fight against California Proposition 6. Better known as “the Briggs Initiative,” this ballot measure was championed by State Senator John Briggs of Orange County. Had it passed, California’s public schools would have been required to fire all gay and lesbian teachers, teacher’s aides, counselors, and administrators in their employ. Not only did Milk publicly debate Briggs over the measure, he also urged then-president Jimmy Carter to condemn it. When Californians went to the polls that November, the initiative was defeated by a margin of more than 1 million votes.

7. Dog poop was a major headache for Harvey Milk.

“I don’t want to put anybody in jail, I don’t want to fine anybody. I just want to clean up the mess,” Milk told San Francisco's KQED News in 1978. He sponsored a bill that imposed fees of $10 or more on area dog owners who didn’t curb their pets. Nicknamed the Scoop the Poop Act by future mayor (and current U.S. Senator) Dianne Feinstein, Milk’s ordinance was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors.

8. Harvey Milk was assassinated by a colleague at City Hall.

Former fireman and police officer Dan White was another newcomer to the board who had been elected on the same day as Milk. The two supervisors seemed to get along well enough at first, but things soured after Milk voted to open a facility for troubled youths in White’s district. Citing financial woes and other concerns, White later resigned from the board. Then—in an abrupt turn—White asked Mayor George Moscone to reappoint him to the position he had just vacated. Ultimately, the mayor refused.

Moscone’s decision was influenced by some of the board’s more liberal members, Milk included, who opposed reappointing White. On November 27, 1978, White—armed with a .38 revolver—climbed through a basement window at City Hall. Once inside, he killed Moscone, reloaded his weapon, and assassinated Milk.

9. The trial of Harvey Milk’s killer led to the “White Night Riots.”

Rioters on the San Francisco Civic Center plaza during the White Night riots.Daniel Nicoletta, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Although he had slain two high-ranking public officials, White was never charged with murder. Instead he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a lesser offense that landed him a seven-year, eight-month prison sentence. Feeling White had escaped justice, approximately 5000 protestors marched on City Hall. What followed were what became known as the “White Night Riots” of May 21, 1978, in which altercations sparked by the trial’s controversial outcome left 124 demonstrators and 59 police officers injured. (As for Dan White: He took his own life on October 21, 1985, less than two years after his release from prison.)

10. The U.S. Navy named a ship in Harvey Milk’s honor.

Navy Media Content Services, Wikimedia//Public domain

Milk’s name now graces a New York City high school, a San Francisco airport terminal, and street signs across the west coast. And then there’s the USNS Harvey Milk, a naval replenishment oiler now under construction. Milk himself had served in the navy before he was forced to resign on account of his homosexuality.

“Naming this ship after Harvey Milk is a fitting tribute to a man who had been at the forefront of advocating for civil and human rights,” former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in 2016 of the ship's namesake.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14


Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140


Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48


Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30


The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19


Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25


This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70


Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120


What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24


Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14


Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Remembering the Deadly London Beer Flood of 1814

London's Horseshoe Brewery
London's Horseshoe Brewery
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In the fall of 1814, one of history's most bizarre disasters befell London when a 15-foot wave of beer flooded an entire neighborhood and left eight people dead.

The Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road in London boasted a massive 22-foot-tall vat that held some 160,000 gallons of dark porter. On October 17, 1814, one of the metal hoops meant to secure it snapped, and the wooden vat succumbed to the immense pressure of all that fermenting brew. The gushing beer smashed open the brewery's other vats, resulting in a raging sea of beer that burst forth from the building.

Over 1 million liters of beer flooded out onto the road and raced through the St. Giles neighborhood. The area was crammed with crowded slums, and many inhabitants couldn't escape in time. According to The Independent: "Hannah Banfield, a little girl, was taking tea with her mother, Mary, at their house in New Street when the deluge hit. Both were swept away in the current, and perished."

Others who were gathered in a cellar for a wake were caught by surprise by the flood and drowned in beer. A wall of a nearby pub crumbled and crushed a 14-year-old girl who was standing next to it. In total, eight people perished in the accident.

Unsubstantiated rumors persist that rowdy locals brought pots and pans to the river of beer in an attempt to round up free drinks. In reality though, the citizens of St. Giles were lauded in the press for their help with the rescue efforts, keeping quiet in the aftermath in order to help listen for the screams of their trapped neighbors.

This story has been updated for 2020.