Scott Smith was a longtime friend, business partner, political adviser and lover of San Francisco human rights leader Harvey Milk, famous for being the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.
Scott met Harvey Milk in 1969 in New York City, where they started a romantic relationship while working for the Broadway production of the musical Hair. Previously, Harvey had accompanied the show’s touring company to San Francisco and fell in love with the city.
In 1972, Harvey convinced Scott, 18 years younger than him, to move with him from New York to San Francisco. Down to their last $1,000 in collective savings, Harvey and Scott needed to find a cheap place to live and a way to make money, according to Randy Shilts in his book The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk.
They decided to open Castro Camera, a photography supplies and service shop that would soon serve as Milk’s campaign headquarters. They chose the Castro District because they heard that apartments there were cheap and they knew of two gay bars that were thriving. Castro Camera opened at 575 Castro Street on March 3, 1973.
Later that year, Scott helped to orchestrate the Coors Beer boycott that elevated Harvey to prominence in the Bay Area’s political scene. One of the first public displays of power by the gay community, the boycott galvanized support behind the Teamsters against the Coors Company, which refused to employ union drivers. Harvey convinced the owners of San Francisco gay bars to boycott Coors beer and it worked — Coors caved in. In return, Harvey convinced the Teamsters to hire openly gay truck drivers, solidifying his reputation as an astute political operator.
Harvey and Scott used the success of the boycott to launch a campaign to elect Harvey Milk to public office. But three unsuccessful campaigns took a toll on their seven-year relationship, and they broke up. However, they still continued their business and political alliance. Scott helped Harvey get elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 1977, a major triumph for the LGBTQ community.
When Harvey Milk, along with Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated in late November 1978, Scott was devastated. The violent death of his closest friend sent Scott into a deep depression.
Scott was executor of Milk’s estate, a job that came with the tedious process of resolving Milk’s debts and other open affairs, and he also became head of the Harvey Milk Archives, spending long hours organizing Milk’s papers, speeches, photographs and other ephemera.
Still in the throes of depression two years after Harvey’s death, Scott sought out counseling and began reconstructing his life. He converted Castro Camera into an art gallery, left the world of politics, and started afresh as a travel agent. He continued to work on the Harvey Milk Archives, earning the nickname “The Widow Milk” from his friends.
On February 4, 1995, Smith died of an AIDS-related illness at San Francisco General Hospital surrounded by friends and family. He was 46 years old.
Smith will forever be linked to Harvey Milk’s human rights legacy and life in the Castro District in the 1970s, an era of LGBTQ liberation and empowerment.