Milk's real legacy

Forty years later, people are still telling Harvey he's too "divisive."


OPINION Ever since Supervisor David Campos announced his proposal to add Harvey Milk's name to SFO, there's been an unending string of criticism — mostly from one source — that has an eerily familiar ring to it.

We heard it years ago when we tried to change the name of Douglas School in the Castro to Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. Believe it or not, it took seven years before the School Board finally voted for the name change — and there was still bitterness. This was a school in Harvey's neighborhood that Harvey personally helped when he was alive.

And of course Harvey heard it himself, when he was constantly told not to rock the boat, not to make waves, not to be so out about being gay. Why? Because it would be divisive, alarm our friends, empower the gay community's enemies, and set the movement back. And forty years later, people are still saying that.

It's not just Harvey Milk. When we went to change the name of Army Street to Cesar Chavez, the same cast of characters voiced the same empty complaints, and it wasn't until a vote of the people that it was finally settled.

Now we come to Campos's courageous proposal to add Harvey's name to San Francisco International Airport. For the city that wildly celebrated gay marriages at City Hall (another event that naysayers were quick to criticize), the city that is the emotional heart of the gay civil rights movement, and the city in which Harvey Milk lived, rose to prominence, and died — this should be a no-brainer. People say this is divisive? In fact, it should be an issue that unites us.

Yes, it will cost the airport some money to change its signage. But this can be done over time, through attrition, and can be far less than the estimates. (Which still only amount to one-half of one percent of the airport's annual budget.)

But by far the most pernicious charge against the proposal is that it would tarnish Harvey's legacy if it loses. Let me tell you — a little adversity never scared off Harvey Milk. He knew how to take a punch. And he knew how to move the civil rights agenda forward through provocative proposals.

For example, did you know before this that 80 airports in the United States are named after individuals, and not one is gay? How long are we going to be second-class citizens?

I commend Supervisor Campos for having the guts to put this proposal forward. That's the real legacy of Harvey Milk: a city with openly gay elected officials who are willing to put their own careers on the line to challenge the status quo. Harvey would be proud.

And, as the powers that be sanctimoniously intone that we shouldn't name the airport after any individual, our great city itself is named after St. Francis.

If being named after an inspiring individual is good enough for our city, it's good enough for our airport.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 17th District.



It's Campos that is divisive.....

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 07, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

after a very polarizing figure. Of course Ammiano wants this renaming, but then he is another gay left-wing politicians, so how unbiased is that view?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

Far, far better than naming an airport after the guy who fired all the air traffic controllers.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

Why not someone neutral and well-liked by everyone?

No need to make an empty partisan political statement about it

Posted by Guest on Feb. 07, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

If right wing idiots name an airport after Reagan based on meaningless symbolism you need to do it to?

Posted by matlock on Feb. 09, 2013 @ 1:34 am

With all due respect to Tom Ammiano, having an airport named after you does not a first-class citizen make.

The pro-side is spinning their wheels. If the measure doesn't get the 6th co-sponsor at the Board of Supervisors, then why are we investing so much energy into this when there are more substantive and pertinent issues to address?: the TIC conversion bypass, the criminalization of nude folks, LGBT homelessness, structural unemployment, etc. Articles like this won't help Campos get that 6th vote, and even if it does, it may be bottled up in committee for who knows how long. And even if it gets on the ballot, I don't see it passing with flying colors.

The pro-side needs to focus less on rhetoric and more on a Plan B. (Like putting it on the ballot themselves, like with the 8 Washington referendum.) However, I still fear that this is going to devolve into a progressive litmus test for years to come. (Yikes.)

Once again, this proposal reeks of idolatry and property-worship. The only REAL way to honor someone is to emulate them (in Harvey's case, to vote like him), not to tag their name on this or that piece of transit bureaucracy.

Posted by City Hall & Oats on Feb. 07, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

to rename SFO after - you guessed it - a white gay liberal!

Posted by anon on Feb. 08, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

"Forty years later, people are still telling Harvey he's too "divisive.""

Why, I still remember all the unifying speeches Milk gave at the People's Temple!

Even when weaker politicians, like Willie Brown, abandoned Jim Jones, Harvey kept the faith!

"Make sure you're always nice to the Peoples Temple. If they ask you to do something, do it, and then send them a note thanking them for asking you to do it. They're weird and they're dangerous, and you never want to be on their bad side."

--Harvey Milk

"However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that Harvey Milk was a strong advocate for Peoples Temple and Jim Jones during his political career, including the tumultuous year leading up to the Jonestown tragedy. Milk spoke at the Temple often, wrote personal letters to Jim Jones, contacted other elected officials on the Temple’s behalf, and used space in his weekly column to support the works of the Temple, even after the negative New West article went to press. Milk appeared in the pages of the Peoples Forum, the Temple newspaper, and received over fifty letters of sympathy from the residents of Jonestown when his lover, Jack Lira, killed himself in September 1978."


Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Feb. 08, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

Say, why don't we rename it Leo Ryan Airport!

The airport is in San Mateo County, and Leo is the only member of Congress to die in the line of duty in the history of the United States.

A liberal Democrat from San Mateo County, and a ferocious opponent of religious cults, murdered by the followers of Jim Jones at Jonestown. A deserving memorial.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Feb. 08, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

Getting shot was what made Milk but I'm not sure that warrants naming an airport after him.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 08, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

Ammiano as a school teacher learned to talk down to his students. Ammiano now he takes those well honed skills and talks down to the dim witted true believer readers of the Bay Guardian and those who may pick it up at the coffee shop or wherever?

I do love language, I love the way that Ammiano E.S.T . like tries to make it impossible to not agree with him. If you don't agree with Ammianos loaded language you are worse than Hitler.

Good for the Guardian, Julius Stryker would be proud.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 09, 2013 @ 1:50 am

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