May 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm EDT | by Phil Reese
Harvey Milk has an important place in history, but he’s not the first.
Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk at his desk at the San Francisco City Hall. (Photo courtesy Wikicommons)

The nation celebrated Harvey Milk Day on the famous openly gay politician’s birthday this past Sunday.  He would have been 81 years old this week, had he not been killed by former fellow-San Francisco City Supervisor, Dan White.

Harvey Milk is often lauded as the first openly gay elected official in America – and he’s certainly an important and historical figure – but the claim that he was the first is false.  In fact, Harvey was the fifth openly gay elected official in the U.S.  Ann Arbor’s Kathy Kozachenko was actually the first, just 3 years before Harvey.

The Victory Fund’s Gay Politics Blog has more on the four openly gay elected officials that preceded the famous Mr. Milk.

Even though he was not the first, Harvey is one of the most outspoken and charismatic public figures the LGBTQ community has ever seen.  His legacy should continue to be celebrated for years to come.


  • When people say Harvey Milk was the first openly gay male elected in the USA, they are saying in the context of a major city. Not to take away from the previous ground breakers. However, lets make it clear… they were elected for their qualifications, and not their sexual preference. Being gay does not make anyone a better politician,athlete,teacher or hairdresser. I happen to be gay and Jewish, and when I vote… just because someone happens to be gay or Jewish does not automatically earn my vote.
    Ironically, Harvey Milk was my friend. He was both Jewish and gay… but I supported Terrence Hallinan, who was married, Irish Catholic, who was running against him. Terry WAS better qualified. He was a FREEDOM RIDER, a lawyer who defended G.I.s who did not want to return to Vietnam, and fought for Civil Rights long before it was fashionable, and resided in District 5 for years.
    I must admit, once Harvey became the Supervisor, he showed great ability to represent the district well.
    However Harry Britt, who was appointed to his seat after Harvey and Mayor Moscone were assassinated ran only on the gay seat issue. He put out brochures that asked WHO NEEDS A GAY SUPERVISOR… WE DO! Can you imagine what would of been said if a Straight candidate put out flyers asking Who needs a straight Supervisor? Also, the gay newspaper BAR called me “Gays for Homophobia” for endorsing Terry,and said Terry was anti-gay for using the slogan UNITED WE STAND, yet used that same tag line when endorsing Britt. I discovered then, there are heterophobics, too.

  • Bravo, Phil, for daring try to correct this myth that will not die. In fact, everyone who enters the HRC store now occupying [I’d say, “hijacking”] Harvey’s former camera store space in the Castro sees a variation of it on their front door” “…the first openly gay man in the nation elected to a major public office.” But the Victory Fund timeline has its own error. Out Jim Yeadon did join the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council in October of 1976, but he was appointed to the position by other councilmembers to fill a vacancy. He did not publicly run for/win the office until April of 1977. Thus:

    1st – Kathy Kozachenko (Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council, January or April 1974, depending on source)
    2nd – Elaine Noble (Massachusetts House of Representatives, November 1974)
    3rd – Allan Spear (Minnesota State Senate, reelected November 1976 after coming out, in office, in 1974)
    4th – Jim Yeadon (Madison, Wis., City Council, April 1977)
    5th – Harvey Milk (San Francisco Board of Supervisors, November 1977)

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