Jewish LGBTQ Hero Poster Series Curriculum — Harvey Milk

Students will learn about LGBTQ Jewish hero Harvey Milk, define activism, and feel empowered to be advocates and create change in society.

July 5, 2022

By Essie Shachar-Hill, Keshet

Introduction

Time: 40-50 mins

Age: 6-16 (two separate lesson plans. See below.)

Materials: 

  • Keshet’s Jewish LGBTQ History Posters 
  • For option one (ages 6-10):
    • Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag or technology to show a video with sound
    • Markers and paper
  • For option two (ages 11+):
    • Technology to show a video with sound
    • Devices with internet for students to use for research

Goals:

  • Students will learn about LGBTQ Jewish hero Harvey Milk
  • Students will define activism and feel empowered to be advocates and create change in society 

Considerations:

  • Parts of this curriculum were adapted from the Anti-Defamation League 
  • This lesson features the biography of Harvey Milk, who was ultimately assassinated. Be prepared to answer questions about why he was assassinated, and consider giving a content warning for homophobic violence. 

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Frame (3 mins)

Today we will be learning about a contemporary Jewish hero. It’s important to learn about Jewish heroes because there are so many extraordinary Jews in our history and present who have made important contributions to the Jewish people and the world at large. It’s also important to learn about lots of different Jewish heroes because it uplifts the fact that the Jewish community is diverse, and there is no one way to be Jewish. Today we are going to learn about Harvey Milk.

 Option 1: Ages 6-10

Learn (10 mins)

Read Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag aloud. Alternatively, show this video of the story being read aloud!

Discuss (5 mins)

Ask students:

  • What is pride? (Emphasize that pride entails a feeling of being worthy of respect.)
  • Why did Harvey Milk and his friend Gilbert Baker create the rainbow flag?
  • What are you proud of? (Students may bring up achievements, hobbies, or activities they are proud of. If they don’t bring up any identity-based pride, prompt them to also think about pride in who they are, not just what they do. For example, “is anyone here proud to be Jewish?”)

Create (15 mins)

Have students create their own flag symbolizing something(s) they are proud of. Provide paper and markers for students to use. You may choose to provide an example. (“As a Jewish mixed race person, on my flag I will include symbols like…”) When students are done, have them share with the class. You might want to hang the flags around the classroom!

Connect (5 mins)

Once students have seen and learned about other students’ sources of pride, ask:

  • There are so many things about ourselves that we are proud of! Sometimes, though, it can be hard or scary to share the things we are proud of. How do you hope people will respond when you share your pride?
  • What can you do to support others who express pride?
  • Who in your life supports you around these prideful parts? (If appropriate, you as the facilitator/teacher can add that you are a safe person to talk to!)

Close (1 min)

In this space, we welcome everyone to be their full selves. Like Harvey Milk, we work to support and advocate for other people too!

Option 2: Ages 11+ 

Learn (6 mins)

Watch “Harvey Milk’s Radical Vision for Equality” to learn about Harvey Milk’s life and legacy.

Discuss (10 mins)

  • What is activism? (See appendix for more resources to guide this conversation)
  • What examples of activism did you identify in Harvey Milk’s story?
  • Milk’s activism was largely about LGBTQ equality. He organized LGBTQ business owners to promote LGBTQ-owned businesses, sponsored an important anti-discrimination bill, and fought against Proposition 6, which aimed at firing gay teachers. Do you see LGBTQ activists working for similar or different goals today? What other causes or issues do you see activists working for today (in our community/in this school/in the country/in the world at large)?
    • Create a collaborative list on the whiteboard or virtual whiteboard
  • Do you think activism is important in Jewish American life? Why or why not? (You may choose to bring in Jewish values of tikkun olam, communal responsibility, etc. Maybe this ties into other Jewish historical figures you’ve taught about, like Heschel or the other LGBTQ Jewish Heroes in Keshet’s series.

– What is activism? (See appendix for more resources to guide this conversation)
– What examples of activism did you identify in Harvey Milk’s story?
– Milk’s activism was largely about LGBTQ equality. He organized LGBTQ business owners to promote LGBTQ-owned businesses, sponsored an important anti-discrimination bill, and fought against Proposition 6, which aimed at firing gay teachers. Do you see LGBTQ activists working for similar or different goals today? What other causes or issues do you see activists working for today (in our community/in this school/in the country/in the world at large)?

Create a collaborative list on the whiteboard or virtual whiteboard
– Ask students: Do you think activism is important in Jewish American life? Why or why not? (You may choose to bring in Jewish values of tikkun olam, communal responsibility, etc. Maybe this ties into other Jewish historical figures you’ve taught about, like Heschel or the other LGBTQ Jewish Heroes in Keshet’s series)

Hope (20 mins)

Harvey Milk famously said “You have to give them hope.” Milk reminded people that a better world is possible. Have students pick one issue area (perhaps from the list above) that they are most drawn to. Ask students to think about what a better world would look and feel like, through the lens of that issue. Have students journal about what that world would look and feel like. Or, provide craft materials and ask students to create a collage that represents their vision. Have students share in pairs.

Plan (15 mins)

If there is access to computers and internet, give students time to research the activism happening around their chosen issue area. Ask students to identify one way they can contribute to that cause. 

 

Extras (if you have more time, multiple lessons, or want to assign homework)

  • Discuss why it can be scary to use one’s voice for change
  • For older audiences, watch the 2008 film Milk based on Harvey Milk’s life (Note: this movie is rated R)
  • Harvey Milk famously encouraged LGBTQ to “come out” in order to increase visibility of LGBTQ people. Discuss the idea of visibility and representation for LGBTQ people. (Some prompts: Is visibility important? Why or why not? Do you see yourself represented around you/in media/in leadership positions? What messages does this send?) 

 

Appendix

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