Californians Keep Harvey Milk’s Legacy Alive

by Derek Lactaoen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 27, 2011

In honor of assassinated gay rights activist Harvey Milk, California celebrated its second-ever Harvey Milk Day last weekend.

Cities across the state held events on the legal holiday that commemorated an activist, a legislator and a symbol for equality. Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement that San Francisco's Gay Rights Ordinance, which Milk spearheaded, continues to serve as a model for the country's anti-discrimination laws.

"I call on all Californians to observe the 81st anniversary of Harvey Milk's birth with appropriate ceremonies and activities," said Brown.

Far from the rallies through the Castro or hearings in a courtroom, California students were the ones who took control of this year's holiday.

At San Francisco's Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, students celebrated with Hotcakes for Harvey in the morning, a Harvey Milk Carnival during the day and a family-friendly drag cafe at night.

Shawn Maceira, parent liaison for the academy, described the day as fun. She was disappointed, however, by this year's low turnout because the school celebrated Milk's Birthday on the Saturday before the official holiday. Maceira said she expects that next year's commemoration will bring even more events and celebration.

Gay-Straight Alliances around the state held celebrations, showing solidarity among sexualities and age groups.

Alameda's Lincoln Middle School held a festival with live music, presentations and a keynote address on gender expression from Phyllis Rothblatt, author of "All I Want to Be Is Me."

North Monterey County High School showed "The Times of Harvey Milk" and Roosevelt High School of Los Angeles participated in "We Serve LA", a day of service in partnership with LGBT groups and other local community organizations. The school worked on painting a mural and constructing community gardens.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Stuart Milk, founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, also noted the activist's Birthday. "We know that this holiday is about more than the heroic life and tragic death of a great man; it is about living up to his cause," said Pelosi in a statement.

Elsewhere in California, events ranged from rallies and marches to movie screenings and parties.

In the Castro, where Sunday's rally took off, Anna Halprin organized a flash mob. The organized dance routine celebrated Milk's legacy and also celebrated Uganda's recently failed "Kill the Gays" bill. Even J-Lo came out to celebrate the day with a concert in San Diego on Friday, May 20.

"When I sometimes get discouraged and angry at the slow pace of our civil rights movement, I do reflect on Harvey's words and powerful ideas," said David Selberg, executive director of Santa Barbara's Pacific Pride Foundation, which held a family-friendly barbecue for Harvey Milk Day.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) largely spearheaded Harvey Milk Day, and Equality California sponsored it.

"At a time when society forced many to lead fearful, closeted lives, Harvey Milk dared to hope for a time when LGBT people could live freely and equally," said Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California. "Harvey knew that the only way to change hearts and minds was for LGBT people and their allies to come out, and to share our stories."

The group hosted several events around Harvey Milk Day. These included a Birthday party at a San Francisco bar, a private event in Bel Air, a Sunday Brunch in Palm Springs and a Microsoft-hosted celebration last Tuesday, May 18.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yaeger, Campbell City Councilmember Evan Lowe and Santa Clara District Director Clark Williams were among the gay officials who attended. "The synergy of those elected officials speaks to [Milk's] legacy, which is about having conversations and being out and open," said Eric Harrison, developmental director for Equality California. "It's one day out of the year. We're looking to Harvey as a beacon of inspiration for the LGBT community."

Derek is a graduate of Humboldt State University in the coastal redwoods of California. He's a journalist, a runner and a hesitant outdoorsman who enjoys morning coffee, travel and singing in the car. Check out www.heytherederek.wordpress.comfor more.