THE MAYOR OF CASTRO STREET: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts

THE MAYOR OF CASTRO STREET: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk

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Although he was one of America's first openly gay public officials, San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk would probably have escaped biographical attention if he had not been gunned down at age 49 three years ago by the same man (another politician, actually--but that's another story) who shot mayor George Moscone. Martyrdom catapulted Milk into mythic status. ""His story already existed in the lives and minds of millions of gays,"" says shilts. ""Had it not been Harvey Milk in San Francisco, the legend would have settled on someone else, in another city, at another time."" For shilts, Milk's career becomes ""a metaphor for the homosexual experience in America,"" a portrait of a gay everyman: the early sense of ""being different""; the constant fear; the distinct double life (in the Korean War, for example, Milk was a naval officer and deep-sea diver); the estrangement from family; coming out and gay hippiedom in the late Sixties (Milk quit his job at a brokerage firm and burned his Bank Americard); arrival on Castro Street; gay politicization; fundamentalist anti-gay backlash; and, finally (perhaps predictably), tragedy. Shilts' interwoven account of the emergence of San Francisco as a gay mecca--and tile. accompanying rise in gays' political clout--is first-rate. Milk, he argues, was not merely a gay politician, but an urban populist who believed passionately that a gay person's success in public life would be a symbol of hope to all the disenfranchised. Whether Milk could have successfully crossed over as a politician is unclear, though he managed sometimes to forge alliances with unlikely groups--the Teamsters, for example--and he was both an adept ward politician and a virtuoso manipulator of the media. Shilts manages to balance the public Harvey Milk with an account of his private life (including some disastrous lovers) that is honest and illuminating without being lurid. Nor does Shilts deny that there was always an element of con in Milk, or that a part of him never took politics seriously--he sometimes called city hall ""my stage,"" and once turned up there in a clown suit. Though shilts offers perhaps a bit too much of the intricacies of San Francisco politics for outsiders, his convincing presentation of Milk's life as amirror of the times should transcend a purely gay audience.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1982
ISBN: 0312560850
Publisher: St. Martin's