Harvey Milk Street


(Image via Willamette Week)

Seamus Robison, Writer

Harvey Milk Street, formerly Stark Street, is a small neighborhood in downtown Portland. According to the Willamette Week’s article “Goodbye Southwest Stark Street, It’s Harvey Milk Street Now,” the street was named after Harvey Bernard Milk. He was the first openly gay politician in California history. For a very long time, it was Southwest Stark Street. For decades, it was the go-to place for the city’s LGBTQ nightlife.

In 1972, Harvey Milk moved from New York to the Castro District of San Francisco during a migration of gay and bisexual men. When he got there he attempted to run for political office three times by taking advantage of the growing power of his neighborhood. In 1977, he was elected as a city supervisor. Milk served in office for almost eleven months, during which he helped to pass a bill that ended discrimination for jobs and housing based on sexual orientation. On November 27th 1978, Harvey Milk was assassinated by Dan White who wanted to get his old job as a city supervisor back. White was sentenced to seven years in prison, which was reduced to five years. Two years after his release, White committed suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Though Milk’s political career was short, he became a powerful martyr for the San Francisco gay community. In 2002, Milk was referred to as “the most famous and most significantly open LGBT official ever elected in the United States.” Milk’s legacy has lived on through the decades since his death. He was a hero to the LGBTQ community in San Francisco, and even in many other parts of the United States. 

For pride week in 2018, Portland’s city council voted to rename Southwest Stark Street after the gay rights icon. Before they voted, Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler said that changing the name “sends a signal that we are an open and welcoming and inclusive community.” Harvey Milk Street, even after all these years, has remained the premier stop for Portlands LGBTQ nightlife. There are many LGBTQ owned drinking establishments as well as dance clubs. Unfortunately though, Harvey Milk Street is not immune to the city’s problems.

For years, Portland has become one of many victims of drug trafficking. Although Oregon has been called the safest state in the U.S., Portland has easily been named the most dangerous city here. With the ever-growing homeless population in Portland, it’s drug trade thrives. More and more low-income people are being forced from their homes. Some turn to drugs in an attempt to feel better about their situations. Harvey Milk has been no exception to this. For years, there have been people buying and using drugs through the neighborhood. Ted Wheeler stated at the renaming of Southwest Stark that Portland was a welcoming community. However, the city may have become too welcoming. Portland has welcomed and embraced the LGBTQ community by hosting several pride festivals through the years, but, in doing so, they have also allowed the neighborhood to become just as bad as every other part of the city. As much as we would all love for Portland to be this beacon of hope, it will always be forced to be a cautionary tale.