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Mourners mark 41 years since Milk, Moscone killings

by Samantha Laurey

Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club President Kevin Bard speaks outside Harvey Milk's former camera shop during the annual Milk-Moscone vigil November 27. Photo: Jon Gollinger
Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club President Kevin Bard speaks outside Harvey Milk's former camera shop during the annual Milk-Moscone vigil November 27. Photo: Jon Gollinger   

On the 41st anniversary of the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, a crowd gathered in the Castro district to mourn their deaths at the annual candlelight vigil.

This year, the November 27 remembrance took place the night before Thanksgiving, and drew about 50-60 people who braved the cold temperatures.

Milk, the first openly gay man elected to office in San Francisco and California, and Moscone were killed November 27, 1978 by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White. The murders shocked the city, including members of the LGBT community, many of whom worked on Milk's campaigns and championed his fight for equality.

"Harvey and George were progressive pioneers. We must honor all that they did for San Francisco and stand firm in our belief that this sort of toxic violence against them will never be tolerated and never be repeated," said Kevin Bard, president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which organizes the yearly gathering.

This year, the vigil started at 18th and Castro streets and attendees proceeded down Castro to the storefront that once housed Milk's Castro Camera shop. (The site is now the location of the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store.)

"It is important to mourn Harvey because he broke open some doors that affected the whole country when he was killed," said Francis Collins, 70, who had come to the vigil.

As two large printed posters of Milk and Moscone were set up along a wall near the Castro Muni station, a handful of supporters were beginning to set up the vigil. They put together a flower wall, lit candles, and passed out smaller placards to attendees.

The vigil started with a 10-minute audio of Milk's "political will," made shortly before his assassination. As supporters listened to Milk's words, they stood quietly as they held their posters and candles close.

"I feel that it is important that some people know my thoughts," said Milk, in the audio, "so all of my thoughts, my wishes, my desires, I would like to pass them on and have them played for the appropriate people ..."

After the audio was finished, attendees marched two blocks down to Milk's old camera store, at 575 Castro Street.

Milk was known for owning his camera shop, where he launched two unsuccessful campaigns for supervisor and one for state Assembly before winning election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 1977. He had become the unofficial "Mayor of Castro Street," due to his history of promoting gay rights, businesses, and community from the shop. He encouraged people to come out of the closet and was involved in many rights battles in the 1970s.

Once the march had reached the camera store, there were speakers who said a few words about Milk and his significance in San Francisco.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman attended the event.

"It's always tremendously moving," he said of the vigil in a phone interview Monday. "People were there who were in their 20s and 30s when Harvey Milk was killed, and now they're in their 60s and 70s. The world changed drastically both emotionally and with what's happened since then."