On the Lived Theology Reading List: Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death, by Lillian FadermanHis Lives and Death

In Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death, author Lillian Faderman documents the life, and the untimely death, of the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. Harvey Milk created quite a stir when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, but he was not able to serve even a full year in office before he was shot by a homophobic fellow supervisor at the age of 48.

Although Harvey Milk was eloquent, charismatic, and a smart-aleck, he only became a politician late in his life. Prior to that, he was a schoolteacher, a securities analyst on Wall Street, a supporter of Barry Goldwater, a Broadway theater assistant, a bead-wearing hippie, the operator of a camera store and organizer of the local business community in San Francisco. Harvey was raised Jewish, and he was deeply influenced by the cultural values of his Jewish upbringing, although he rejected Judaism as a religion. In his last five years, he focused all of his tremendous energy on becoming a successful public figure with a distinct political voice, one who championed the rights of gays, racial minorities, women, working people, the disabled, and senior citizens.

Milk’s assassination made him the most famous gay man in modern history; twenty years later Time magazine included him on its list of the hundred most influential individuals of the twentieth century, and in 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Metal of Freedom.

The Jewish Lives series, which this book is a part of, is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“This elegantly written and well-researched book recovers the Jewishness that has too often been erased or glossed over in the mythologizing of a gay icon.”—Helene Meyers, Tablet

“The theme that comes through most prominently is Milk’s unflinching courage and forward thinking resolution. I found myself frequently writing in the margin of my copy: ‘So ahead of his time.'”—Peter Marino, Gay and Lesbian Review

“Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Lillian Faderman’s Harvey Milk is a revelation. This insightful work provides context to Milk’s life as a gay icon and illuminates how his experience was deeply informed by his own Jewish identity.”—Cleve Jones, author of When We Rise: My Life in the Movement

For more information on the publication, click here.

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