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Happy Harvey Milk Day Observances
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/21/12
Last updated on: 05/23/12
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Harvey Milk in 1978 (Photo: detail from a photograph by Dan Nicoletta).

On October 12, 2009, the day after the National Equality March in Washington, D. C., California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill designating May 22 "Harvey Milk Day" in California. Gay organizations and other groups throughout California use Harvey Milk Day as an opportunity to commemorate the values of inclusiveness, community organizing, volunteering, and activism that Milk embodied. In 2012, the holiday was celebrated across the state in a variety of activities.

Harvey Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, was among the first openly gay men to be elected to public office in the United States. His tragic assassination in San Francisco's City Hall in 1978 made him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

Although Harvey Milk Day is officially celebrated on May 22, Milk's birthday, this year the holiday was in some places been observed early. For example, in Sacramento on May 15 an event was held at the California Museum and hosted by the Harvey Milk Foundation, Equality California (EQCA), and the California State LGBT Legislative Caucus. The event focused on a discussion of the FAIR Education Act (SB 48), which mandates that California schools include the history and accomplishments of glbtq people in their curricula.

The event was opened with an address by Speaker of the Assembly, John A. Pérez, on the importance of the FAIR Education Act. He extolled the legislation as a means to build a more just society by ensuring that students "understand the importance, not just of Harvey Milk and the Stonewall Riots, but also the artists, business leaders, and military leaders who are LGBT who made enormous contributions to our society."

In West Hollywood, a book entitled The Harvey Milk Story was presented to area elementary schools and a special Harvey Milk banner designed by artist Jeff Tsuji was unveiled.

West Hollywood also sponsored a panel discussion about Milk's legacy, "Got Milk: The Collision of the Arts & Social Justice in the Post-Harvey Milk Era," which will be moderated by Tony Valenzuela, the executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation, and include actor Peter Page and Jon Imparato, director of Cultural Arts at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.

West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang issued a press statement in which he said, "Perhaps more than any other modern figure, Harvey Milk's life and political career embody the rise of the LGBT civil rights movement."

"At a time when society forced many to lead closeted lives, Harvey Milk dared to hope for a time when LGBT people could live openly, freely, equally," Prang continued. "So, each year we celebrate the life of Harvey Milk to remind us all to embrace our diversity, and to keep alive his vision for equal rights for all."

On May 20, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Stuart Milk, founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation and nephew of Harvey Milk, hosted the 3rd Annual Harvey Milk Day of Service at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.

In San Diego, a two-block street in the city's Hillcrest neighborhood was re-named in Harvey Milk's memory. The two-block street, formerly named Blaine Street, leads to the city's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center.

The City Council authorized the name-change on a unanimous vote. "I believe this is an appropriate way to honor Harvey Milk's tremendous contributions," Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents Hillcrest and is one of the council's two openly gay members, told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. "This is the culmination of years of work by many San Diegans and will ensure the civil rights leader is never forgotten in our city."

In Long Beach, a park was dedicated in Milk's honor. A groundbreaking ceremony was held for Harvey Milk Promenade Park, described by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster as the nation's first park to be named for the slain gay leader.

The park site at Third Street and The Promenade includes new landscaping, seating, lighting, enhanced paving, and public art, including a replica of Milk's famous soapbox, and an area dedicated to honoring Long Beach area lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender leaders.

"Harvey Milk was a trailblazer for the LGBT community who battled against discrimination and unbelievable odds," Mayor Foster said. "I'm proud Long Beach is the first city in the country to honor Harvey Milk by dedicating a park in his name."

In San Francisco, a march and rally marked Harvey Milk Day.

In addition, the city's GLBT History Museum offered free admission on Tuesday, May 22, and marked the occasion throughout the day with first-ever screenings of video footage of Milk from before his election to the Board of Supervisors.

Museum spokesman Gerard Koskovich told Edge that they had not even been aware of what was on the open-reel video footage until it was recently converted digitally for the exhibit.

The recovered footage shows Milk in a 1976 interview at the Castro Street Fair, two years after he and the Castro Valley Association founded the event to showcase the emerging LGBT neighborhood in Castro Valley.

Koskovich said, "This material has never been broadcast. It was donated about 15 years ago, open-reel black and white videotape. It's just been converted recently and that's when we discovered what's on it."

Another video shows Milk speaking at City Center at a 1978 rally against the "Briggs Initiative" to ban openly gay and lesbian teachers.

"He's sounding many of the themes people will be familiar with, why we should be allowed to serve as teachers," Koskovich said. "It's a rousing stump speech that I would say would resonate in a number of ways with people today and the debate following the passage of the FAIR Education Act."

More information about Harvey Milk Day and its observance may be found at the Harvey Milk Foundation website.

The video below documents the unveiling of the new signs for Harvey Milk Street in San Diego.

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