Recognizing Harvey Milk: How Cities Can Celebrate a Trailblazer in Municipal Leadership


  • Jeffery Slavin
May 14, 2021 - (4 min read)

May 22nd marks Harvey Milk Day which celebrates a pioneer in American history and one of the first openly gay candidates to win public office. Milk’s work in office and as an activist centered community engagement, both with the burgeoning LGBTQ community in the Castro District of San Francisco and other groups of residents who felt unseen by the city government. He was conscious that marginalized people, whether on racial, gender, class, or other lines, held certain similarities in having their voices excluded from the common political narrative.  

Take Action

This year, NLC’s LGBTQ+LO has drafted a proclamation to recognize Harvey Milk’s groundbreaking actions and story. NLC members and local leaders across the country are invited to introduce and adopt the proclamation and share with their community the story of Harvey Milk’s life and work. 

During his tenure on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors starting in January 1978, Milk stood up for his community by writing an ordinance to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. He also used his position as an elected official to push for policies that promoted the welfare of all residents. This included childcare services for working mothers, increasing and protecting affordable housing, advocating for reforms in policing, and improvements to neighborhood services like libraries. He even famously backed a law mandating dog owners pick up their pets’ droppings to make parks more enjoyable for residents. His persona propelled his policy work and got people involved at the local level, always engaging with an upbeat and playful character while still taking on big issues affecting the city.  

Supervisor Milk was a tireless advocate for addressing the gaps in city policy and standing up for his residents. He was a proponent for positive change and a leader that wanted what was best for the people.  

The legendary LGBTQ+ rights leader Harvey Milk was a local elected official like those of us with the National League of Cities. Like local officials today, Harvey Milk was not just a civil rights leader but a leader in his community who fought for his residents and so many others. Celebrated as a forerunner, Milk’s goal was simply to serve the community.  

Many local leaders who are part of NLC’s five constituency groups (American Pacific American Municipal OfficialsHispanic Elected Local OfficialsNational Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, and Women in Municipal Government) are often the first or only of their demographic in city hall. These networks serve as spaces to discuss their experiences, engage with their fellow elected officials and residents back home while also participating in discussions on new ideas and sharing policy best practices.  

Milk famously said, “If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities, if we fight.” As our nation rebuilds from the coronavirus pandemic and responds to a national reckoning on race, there is an opportunity for local leaders to commit themselves to promoting equity and rebuild cities that uplift all their residents.  


One of NLC’s five constituency groups, the LGBTQ+LO group encourages the active involvement and participation of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer municipal officials and provides a forum to network and share best practices.  Become a member of LGBTQ+LO. Click ‘Join Now’ for information about Board nominations and an application form.

About the Author

Jeffery Slavin

About the Author

Jeffrey Slavin is Mayor of Somerset, Maryland and serves as President, LGBTQ+ Local Officials