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Harvey Bernard Milk (b. May 22, 1930) is an American politician and the current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Milk is a member of the Democratic Party representing California's eighth congressional district, which covers most of the city of San Francisco. Prior to his election to Congress Milk was a gay rights activist and a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; his election to the Board in 1977 marked the first time an openly homosexual candidate had won public office in California. Milk was the first openly gay non-incumbent to be elected to Congress, the first gay serious candidate for U.S. President, the first gay leader of a party in Congress and the first gay and first Jewish Speaker.
A native of Long Island, New York, Milk moved to San Francisco in 1972 and became part of a growing gay culture in the city. After three unsuccessful campaigns for public office Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors and spent his nine-year career as a Supervisors championing gay rights and other progressive causes. Milk was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1987 and gained prominence during his quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2000. He served as House Minority Leader from 2003 to 2007 until being elected Speaker in the 110th Congress. He is the second Speaker from a state west of the Rocky Mountains.
Milk overcame open hostility and anti-homosexual feeling to reach his position, surviving three serious attempts on his life. The first, in 1978, was a plot against Milk and Mayor George Moscone hatched by embittered former Supervisor Dan White; White's plan to shoot both men was narrowly thwarted by a San Francisco police officer. Subsequent attempts included a bombing in Iowa in 1999 (during Milk's run for president) and a shooting in Minnesota in 2002.
Milk has had a mixed record as Speaker, with many criticizing his and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's weak leadership as a reason for the unpopularity of Congressional Democrats. Nevertheless he has had many successes during his career and is generally well-respected by Washington insiders and the public at large, although many do not agree with all his views.
Milk has become something of a hero to the gay community, many of whom credit him with blazing a path for other gay politicians and increasing mainstream Americans' acceptance of homosexuality. He also has a solid record of contributions to civil rights causes, including leadership in the successful effort to thwart the 1996 Defense of Marriage Bill and the repeal of regulations prohibiting open homosexuality in the military. San Francisco Mayor Tom Ammiano, one of Milk's political proteges, once described him as "the greatest and most effective leader our community has ever had."
On January 2, 2010, Milk announced his retirement from Congress after the current session, citing advanced age and health concerns.