Monday, May 24, 2010
Harvey Milk Day
After two legislative attempts by Senator Mark Leno, a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and the Oscar-winning 2008 movie Milk, May 22nd was celebrated across the United States as Harvey Milk Day, on what would have been the gay rights pioneer's 80th birthday. Somewhere, Harvey is smiling and dancing in celebration!
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger finally agreed that the slain civil rights leader deserved a day of recognition, after years of pressure from the California legislature, LGBT rights groups, and his wife, Maria Shriver, who was instrumental in getting Milk inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2009.
Concerts, political fundraisers and rallies were held in California, and commemorative Harvey Milk Day events were held in 20 other U.S. states.
Milk was the first openly gay man to win elected office in a major U.S.city, after several years of failed attempts to win various lower political positions. He was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978, when he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by former supervisor Dan White, who pleaded the infamous "Twinkie defense". White was convicted of manslaughter, which led to the White Night Riots in San Francisco, and he later committed suicide after serving two years of a five-year sentence.
In San Francisco, where Milk moved to from New York in the late 1960's during the height of the civil rights movement, a Milk plaque dedication occurred at the site of his old camera store, Castro Camera. There is already a large mural of Harvey on the wall of the store, which is now an upscale furniture boutique called Given. A free showing of the movie Milk was also shown at the nearby historic Castro Theater.
Harvey Milk's legacy is credited with numerous accomplishments, among them organizing a few hundred people for the world's first "Gay Freedom" parade, which has now grown to a worldwide movement referred to simply as Pride, and includes millions of participants of all sexual orientations. Milk is also remembered for helping to defeat a ballot initiative that would have prevented gay teachers from working at public schools in California.
As a demonstration of Harvey's lasting impact, at San Juan Hills High School in conservative Orange County, California, state achievement tests prevented classroom activities, but 15-year-old Benji Delgadillo and other members of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance Club sold Harvey milkshakes and handed out fliers after school explaining who Mr. Milk was.
“Harvey Milk is a civil rights icon who sparked a movement that today is really helping to address the issues of harassment that lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or gender non-conforming students face in our school and our community,” Benji said.
Harvey's nephew, Stuart Milk told the AP he thinks his uncle would be thrilled by the various tributes, but he also wants his day to be more about uniting all marginalized minorities than merely about gay rights or the accomplishments of one man.
“It's still a hard concept for people to get,” Stuart Milk said. “This isn't about having a Harvey Milk curriculum in every school. It's an opportunity to talk about what discrimination means and why it's important for everyone to feel included.”