In 1978, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors — making him the first openly gay elected official in the state of California.

Before becoming politically active, Milk ran a camera shop in San Francisco, where he continued to see injustice in his community.

Harvey Milk smiling in front of a campaign sign: Don't Let It Happen Here Register to Vote
Harvey Milk sitting in front of Castro Camera on Castro Street, San Francisco in 1977. Sign reads: "Don't Let It Happen Here — Register to Vote" / Photo courtesy of HARVEY MILK ARCHIVES-SCOTT SMITH COLLECTION, HORMEL GAY & LESBIAN CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

Homosexuality was horrifically criminalized, Milk met teachers who didn't have enough resources to teach their students, and local taxes on small businesses were seen as corrupt.

As he entered activism, community organizing, and politics, Milk became known as a champion of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, immigrants, women, and children.

A group of people holding "Harvey Milk Supervisor" signs on Market Street
"Harvey's Human Billboard" - A group of people holding "Harvey Milk Supervisor" signs on Market Street at Duboce, November 1975 / Photo courtesy of HARVEY MILK ARCHIVES-SCOTT SMITH COLLECTION, HORMEL GAY & LESBIAN CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

Milk was assassinated in November 1978. He left behind a legacy of activism and care — and has inspired thousands of people worldwide — politicians, activists, and individuals — who have taken steps to fight discrimination against marginalized groups.

We've collected his most meaningful quotes about politics, activism, the LGBTQ+ community, human rights, and hope —

The Best Harvey Milk Quotes From His Time as an Activist & Politician

Famous Harvey Milk Quotes

“Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion.”
— Harvey Milk

“Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion.” — Harvey Milk

“I fully realize that a person who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes the target or the potential target for a person who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed with themselves.”
— Harvey Milk

“Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice.”
— Harvey Milk

“Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice.” — Harvey Milk

“To sit on the front steps — whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city — and to talk to our neighborhoods is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living-room lounger and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color.”
— Harvey Milk

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
— Harvey Milk

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” — Harvey Milk


On Hope

“Hope will never be silent.”
— Harvey Milk

“Hope will never be silent.” — Harvey Milk

“You have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only are the gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the ‘us-es.’ The ‘us-es’ will give up.”
— Harvey Milk, in his iconic 1978 “Hope Speech”

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
— Harvey Milk

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Harvey Milk

“If there's a message I have to give, it is that I found one overriding thing about my personal election. It's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you — you have to give people hope.”
— Harvey Milk, in his iconic 1978 “Hope Speech”

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”
— Harvey Milk

“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.” — Harvey Milk

Read more quotes about hope

On Human Rights

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”
— Harvey Milk

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” — Harvey Milk

“All men [people] are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.”
— Harvey Milk

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
— Harvey Milk

On Activism

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
— Harvey Milk

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” — Harvey Milk

“I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough,’ come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”
— Harvey Milk

“If you elect more gay people, that gives a “green light” to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, then the doors are open to everyone.”
— Harvey Milk

“I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up.”
— Harvey Milk

Read more quotes on activism


On Politics

“Politics is theater. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, I’m here, pay attention to me.”
— Harvey Milk

“Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” — Harvey Milk

“If I do a good job, people won’t care if I am green or have three heads.”
— Harvey Milk

“I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. I considered the movement the candidate. I think that there’s a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement. I think I was always part of the movement.”
— Harvey Milk

On the LGBTQ+ Community Coming Out

“Freedom is too enormous to be slipped under a closet door.”
— Harvey Milk

“Freedom is too enormous to be slipped under a closet door.” — Harvey Milk

“Coming out is the most political thing you can do.”
— Harvey Milk

“We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets.”
— Harvey Milk

“I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up, and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine.”
— Harvey Milk

“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
— Harvey Milk

“If every gay person were to come out only to his/her own family, friends, neighbors, and fellow workers, within days the entire state would discover that we are not the stereotypes generally assumed.”
— Harvey Milk

“Gay brothers and sisters… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth.”
— Harvey Milk

Read more Pride quotes

On Love

“If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities — the expression of love — then life itself loses its meaning.”
— Harvey Milk

“If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities — the expression of love — then life itself loses its meaning.” — Harvey Milk

“There are people I might have loved had they gotten on the airplane or run down the street after me.”
— Harvey Milk

“Go after her because that’s what you should do if you love someone.”
— Harvey Milk

“Be with her in meaningful ways because that is beautiful and that is generous and that is what loving someone is.”
— Harvey Milk

Other

“We must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.”
— Harvey Milk

“We must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.” — Harvey Milk

“All over the country, they’re reading about me, and the story doesn’t center on me being gay. It’s just about a gay person who is doing his job.”
— Harvey Milk

“All men are created equal. Now matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words.”
— Harvey Milk

“The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods. If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods.”
— Harvey Milk

“We must understand that the quality of life is more important than the standard of living.” — Harvey Milk

“I was born of heterosexual parents. I was taught by heterosexual teachers in a fiercely heterosexual society. Television ads and newspaper ads — fiercely heterosexual. A society that puts down homosexuality. And why am I a homosexual if I’m affected by role models? I should have been a heterosexual. And no offense meant, but if teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”
— Harvey Milk

“Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all.”
— Harvey Milk

“Let me have my tax money go for my protection and not for my prosecution. Let my tax money go for the protection of me.”
— Harvey Milk

Looking for ideas on how you can celebrate Pride Month? Look no further than our guide.