By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
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By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
On the Friday before the Youth Campus came before the board, White asked Milk if he had his vote. Sloan, who was taking a head count of likely votes, recalls Milk saying, "Dan, you've really earned your $9,600 on this one." White and Sloan took that to mean Milk would side with White, Sloan says.
But on Monday, Milk voted for the Youth Campus. White had lost his most important issue, and he was embarrassed in front of a chamber full of Portola residents whom he had invited to witness their victory.
"I knew Harvey wasn't going to vote against the Youth Campus," Kopp says. "For crying out loud, it was a liberal vote. White came up to me right afterward and says, 'I guess a leopard never changes its spots.' He was mad. Very mad."
For Sloan, things around City Hall began to change. "That was it," he says. "Harvey was no longer a friend, and it wasn't any fun anymore. It was all 'no' votes on the parades and anything else Harvey wanted."
White didn't show up at City Hall again until the following Monday, when the board was scheduled to take the final vote on Milk's Gay Rights Ordinance. White was the only supervisor to vote against it. And, like a petulant child, he began to publicly denounce the gay parade to the media.
Milk was thriving as an elected official. He had an ability to appeal to a spectrum of interests that extended beyond the queer community. He was able to get the labor unions, probably the city's most homophobic organizations in the 1970s, to endorse his candidacy. He was also sponsoring a blizzard of substantial legislation and getting a lot of positive press attention. White, on the other hand, was struggling. Youth Campus was the one substantial thing he had put effort into, and after it failed, he began to lose interest in his political career.
White was also having money troubles. He and Mary Ann had had their first child, and to make ends meet, they had started a new snack-food business at Pier 39. The Whites and Sloan, who was a partner, were all putting in long hours.
Perhaps trying to mend fences with Milk, White cut a $100 check for the campaign against the Briggs Initiative, a statewide ballot measure that would have made it illegal for gays or lesbians to teach in public schools (Milk was successful in leading the effort to defeat the measure). And Milk was one of three people from City Hall invited by White to his son's baptism. "And you know how important Catholics take those baptisms," Sloan says.
But White had begun to exhibit signs of depression. He rarely showed up at his City Hall office, and avoided his constituents. Then, without consulting anyone, White gave Mayor Moscone his resignation letter. By the time White arrived home that afternoon, upset constituents, friends, and police and fire union members were calling, and they were pissed.
White told them all that he had to quit because of financial worries, and that he was through with being a supervisor.
In Black's script for Milk, White holds a mysterious meeting with sheriffs and cops in a City Hall basement room and emerges wanting his job back.
But Sloan says he talked White into asking for his job back. "I told him he wasn't going to duck his responsibility, and I talked to him like he was a team captain," he says. "I believe he absolutely recognized he had mental health problems, but finally he wasn't going to avoid his responsibilities."
White asked Moscone for his job back, and at first the mayor was understanding. On November 14, he even gave White back his resignation letter. But there were legal questions, many raised by Milk, who was lobbying heavily against White's reappointment. Moscone decided to wait.
On the morning of November 27, White learned Moscone was not going to reappoint him. He went into his basement office, loaded his police-issue .38, put 10 extra hollow-point shells in his front pants pocket, and left for City Hall.
In 1985, just under two years after his release from prison, White went into the garage of his Excelsior District home and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe of the family car to the inside. He died clutching family photos and listening to a loop tape of the Irish ballad "Fields of Athenry." He never publicly expressed regret for killing Moscone and Milk. (Mary Ann White, who still lives in the modest house, did not respond to a request for an interview.)
Film producer Dan Jinks says that Black has worked for years on the script to ensure its accuracy, and the public should withhold judgment about White's depiction in Milk until it is shown in theaters.
Perhaps accuracy really doesn't matter. Supervisor Ammiano says people will have their own take on that chapter in the city's history. "Everybody sees things through different lenses," he says. "But the outpouring of grief over Milk's murder, which continues to this day, shows beyond a doubt how deep feelings were at that time."
Brian Basinger, president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, says homophobia, racism, and sexism inform an individual's actions in society, but calling White a homophobe might be wrapping things up a little too neatly. "At least for me, I see him more now as a sad, tragic, and pathetic person," he says. "Maybe that's because I've become stronger, and seeing him as a homophobe would taint me as a victim. And that would give him power."