White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Former San Francisco supervisor Dan White clandestinely entered San Francisco City Hall and murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.

Summary of Event

On the morning of November 27, 1978, Dan White, a former police officer and firefighter who also had been a San Francisco San Francisco;board of supervisors city and county supervisor, San Francisco;and Milk and Moscone murders[Milk and Moscone murders] entered San Francisco’s City Hall through a basement window, avoiding security screening at the building’s main entrances. White made his way to the office of Mayor George Moscone and shot and killed him with a revolver. [kw]White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk (Nov. 27, 1978) [kw]Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk, White (Nov. 27, 1978) [kw]Politicians Moscone and Milk, White Murders (Nov. 27, 1978) [kw]Moscone and Milk, White Murders Politicians (Nov. 27, 1978) [kw]Milk, White Murders Politicians Moscone and (Nov. 27, 1978) Politicians;gay Antigay violence;Milk and Moscone murders Hate crime;murders of gay politicians [c]Crime;Nov. 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk[1290] [c]Civil rights;Nov. 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk[1290] [c]Marches, protests, and riots;Nov. 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk[1290] Milk, Harvey Moscone, George White, Dan Feinstein, Dianne

He then reloaded his weapon with highly lethal dumdum (hollow point) bullets and walked into Supervisor Harvey Milk’s office. Wishing to avoid a confrontation, Milk ushered White into White’s former office, which he had vacated ten days earlier after resigning from the board of supervisors. White positioned himself between Milk and the door, drew his revolver from his jacket, and fired five times at Milk, killing him instantly.

White, a San Francisco native, had been a respected member of both the police and fire departments of the city. Raised as a devout Roman Catholic, he had married and become a father. He had given up his regular job upon his election to the board of supervisors as the representative for District 8. He was characterized as rigid, homophobic, self-righteous, and ultraconservative. Immediately before the shootings, he had complained that he could not support his family on the $9,600 annual supervisors’ salary and then used the low salary as an excuse to resign from the board less than two weeks earlier.

The underlying cause of his resignation, however, was his opposition to San Francisco’s gay rights bill, which had been introduced by Harvey Milk and passed by a board vote of ten to one; White made the only dissenting vote. Mayor Moscone, who was dedicated to equal rights for all citizens, signed the bill into law as soon as the board had voted.

This legislation, protecting gays and lesbians from job discrimination and unequal treatment before the law, was heralded by San Francisco’s large GLBT community, which soon after participated in a Gay Freedom Day Parade that attracted some 400,000 people. White had attempted to stop the march, but his efforts were futile.

White soon resigned from the board of supervisors, only to regret almost immediately that he had done so. He urged the mayor to reappoint him, but Moscone refused. White, who was said to have been overstimulated from having eaten too much junk food, murdered the mayor, then murdered Milk. The bullets White used to kill Milk were bullets designed to explode inside a person’s body after being shot.

Dianne Feinstein, then-president of the board of supervisors and the acting mayor after Moscone’s death, announced the murders. The shocked city, still dealing with the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre in Guiana, South America, in which many San Franciscans had died, went into a state of deep mourning. By evening, thirty thousand people marched along Market Street and then gathered for a candlelight vigil Protests and marches;and Milk and Moscone murders[Milk and Moscone murders] in memory of the two victims.

Five months later, White was tried for first degree murder. His act was premeditated. Nevertheless, sympathy for the accused murderer was widespread. City police and firefighters raised more than $100,000 for White’s defense fund. The impaneled jury consisted mostly of white, working-class people; out gays and lesbians, blacks, and members of other ethnic groups were systematically excluded. Prosecutors reduced the charges against White to voluntary manslaughter in order to secure conviction. White’s attorney had argued the so-called “Twinkie” defense, "Twinkie" defense[Twinkie defense] alleging that White was so stimulated by the high sugar and high carbohydrate foods he had consumed the night before the murders that he could not be held responsible for his actions. He was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years and eight months but, with time off for good behavior, served just short of five years. On the day of the verdict, May 22, 1979, San Francisco’s GLBT community clashed with police in what was called the “White Night” riots, burning many police vehicles and breaking into City Hall, causing more than $1 million in damage.

Dan White left San Francisco for Los Angeles on his release from prison, but found that Los Angeles did not want him. He returned to San Francisco and, on October 21, 1985, attached a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of his 1970 Buick Le Sabre and took his own life.

Significance

The protests by San Francisco’s GLBT community that followed the sentencing of Dan White to just seven years in prison, although violent in themselves, nevertheless marked a new activism against violence motivated by hatred of GLBT people, and they helped to raise Harvey Milk, who knew he was a possible target for murder, to the status of an icon within the GLBT community. The Dan White murder case is just one instance of the violence and threat of violence faced by GLBT people. Many less-visible murders and other hate crimes against GLBT persons have received far less, if any, media attention. Politicians;gay Antigay violence;Milk and Moscone murders Hate crime;murders of gay politicians

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Krakow, Kari. The Harvey Milk Story. Illustrated by David Gardner. Ridley Park, Pa.: Two Lives, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcus, Eric. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ridinger, Robert B. Marks. The Gay and Lesbian Movement: References and Resources. New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">

    The Times of Harvey Milk. San Francisco, Calif.: Black Sands Productions, 1984. Academy-award winning documentary film.

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