The first openly gay elected figure in California, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, and the city’s mayor, George Moscone, were both murdered in 1978. Dianne Feinstein, then-president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, was the one who announced the information to the public.
Feinstein informed a group of shocked reporters, “Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.” Dan White, the supervisor, is the suspect.
Feinstein went on to become California’s first female U.S. senator before passing away on Friday at the age of 90. But she took office as mayor of San Francisco right away after the murder.
In 2008, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the murder, Feinstein talked to the San Francisco Gate about finding Milk’s body in city hall after their colleague, White, had slain him. “I moved down the corridor. I went through the incorrect door. (Milk’s) door was opened by me. On his stomach, I discovered Harvey. I stuck my finger through a bullet hole in an attempt to feel for a pulse. She told the neighborhood newspaper that he was obviously dead.
Prior to the murder, Feinstein claimed to have been away for three weeks, yet she still chatted to White on the phone. According to Feinstein, he believed Milk would not stand up for him and was furious that the mayor would not appoint him again.
In his murder trial, White used the now-famous “Twinkie Defense,” attributing the killings to junk food and work-related stress. White secured a reduced sentence—manslaughter—by pleading mental illness. The “White Night” riots, which were started by enraged Milk supporters who wanted White to be found guilty of first-degree murder, tore through the city.
White killed Milk, according to Feinstein, not because he was homophobic but rather because he felt betrayed by Milk when the mayor opted not to reappoint him. This was said in an interview with SF Gate.
Feinstein’s testimony about White and their friendship during the trial moved the defendant to tears.
She did, however, claim to have instructed San Francisco Police Chief Con Murphy to warn White not to return to the city after his 1984 release from jail because “his chances of survival were not good.” In 1987, White committed suicide.
If she could change the time of the killing, Feinstein told SF Gate, she would do it “in a second, in a nanosecond.”
When the 2008 release of the Oscar-nominated movie “Milk” was announced, she declared she would not see it. She said to SF Gate, “I think in my face you saw the pain of the day 30 years ago. “I still struggle to do it again, and I’m not a masochist. I am aware of the events. That’s actually enough for me since I experienced those events firsthand and made an effort to learn from them in terms of the type of public servant I am.
Since then, Feinstein has referred to the day of the murders as “the darkest day of my life.” Feinstein released a statement in the summer of 2016 and mentioned the homicides that affected her life. This was in response to numerous incidents of gun violence around the nation, including the killings of two Black males by police officers.
After White’s trial, she claimed, the city was “filled with grief and torn apart by hate and a lack of trust,” and in her capacity as mayor, she established a task committee comprising police officers, homosexual community leaders, and religious leaders to assist in mending the city.
Feinstein kept up his remembrance of Milk decades after the horrible incident, frequently writing about him on his birthday or the anniversary of the assassinations. And in 2022, she commemorated the Navy’s acceptance of the USNS Harvey Milk, a ship bearing the icon’s name.
She was on the San Francisco board when Milk’s homosexual rights law, which outlawed prejudice against LGBTQ people in public facilities, employment, and housing, was adopted. A 1978 New York Times article claims that only White cast a vote against the ordinance.
Feinstein maintained her support for LGBTQ rights while serving as a senator, introducing the Respect for Marriage Act in 2011. The Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, was abolished by the bill, which was passed in 2022 and provides legal protections for same-sex marriages. One of the few senators who reject DOMA in 1996 was Feinstein.
She backed the Equality Act, which would provide the LGBTQ population more federally recognized civil rights, and she also fought for equality in the military.