Ceremony’s held at White House and San Fran
Respected political leaders gathered at the White House last Thursday to unveil a new U.S. postage stamp commemorating slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, while on the same day political leaders, activists and celebrities gathered on the other side of the country in San Fran for the same purpose.
The first-day-of-issue dedication took place on what would have been Milk's 84th birthday. The "forever" stamp bears an iconic image of Milk taken in 1977 in front of Castro Street Camera in San Francisco.
In San Fran an enthusiastic crowd of about one hundred gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in the heart of the city’s iconic gay neighborhood “The Castro.” Forty-two years earlier, Milk gave his first political speech only a few feet away from where the group stood.
It was the second year in a row the White House held a ceremony for Harvey Milk Day, which takes place annually on May 22. Last year, it recognized the achievements of elected and appointed lesbian and gay officials across the country.
Last week’s White House event featured many speakers, including Stuart Milk, cofounder of the Harvey Milk Foundation and Harvey's nephew, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).
"He said his victory signaled a green light to all those who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward and that the doors are open to everyone," Pelosi said. "Thanks to Harvey, our society is better forever. Together, we'll finish the work Harvey started."
While in San Fran the man that now holds Milk’s former council seat, openly gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, said "The unveiling wouldn't be complete if we didn't have a down home celebration in the Castro. It's where Harvey is from. We've made so much progress: marriage equality, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, it's so important to have visibility."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a veteran of the civil rights movement, noted at the White House that Milk's activism came during one of the last social revolutions in American history.
"The tiny ripples that began more than 40 years ago began a tidal wave that swept through the Supreme Court and the nation, liberating gay couples in states around the country," Lewis said. "So, thank you, Harvey Milk."
Perhaps the most engaging talk at the White House was delivered by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, echoing the theme Milk himself became known for, ' hope and change.'
Cleve Jones, a long time activist and personal friend of Milk's, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black also showed up to the San Fran ceremony.
"Happy Birthday Harvey!" Jones proclaimed, with his fist in the air. In a nod to Milk’s activism Jones and Black spent that morning at the post office giving out postcards to bring awareness to the situation in Brunei where Sharia law was recently enacted and calls for the death of homosexuals. The Sultan of Brunei happens to be one of the owners of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, Cali., and activists have called for boycotts of the hotel.
“Change your laws or sell your hotel!" reads the card.
"I was invited to go to Washington D.C. to be at the White House unveiling," Black told SFGN. "After giving it some thought, I went back to 'what would Harvey do?'" Black felt that staying in town and taking a stand against the Sultan was what he had to do.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz also attended the White House ceremony, along with Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Gay publishers Norm Kent from South Florida Gay News and Tom Dyer from Orlando's Watermark were also participants in the event, which included separate receptions at the Lithuanian embassy to celebrate Milk's heritage and the foundation's global outreach.
Milk’s former colleague Anne Kronenberg added one moment of levity, at the otherwise solemn ceremony at the White House.
“It is pretty ironic that Harvey is on a postage stamp. When we ran his campaign in 1977, we did not have enough money to even mail out his brochure. We had no money for postage.”
The final ceremony included a reception sponsored by the Victory Institute at Washington's Columbia Club, where Daniel Nicoletta, the stamp's photographer, autographed the first day issue. Postal officials indicated the stamp was selling "briskly."
Broadcast live on the Internet, the program was received well internationally. It culminated with a performance of 'Same Love' by lesbian artist Mary Lambert, recently seen at the Grammys.
For San Fran tourist Michael Frost, who lives in a small conservative town, attending the unveiling was especially meaningful. "I'm only recently out in the last five years," said Frost, 41. "Many people in the town are closeted because it's rural. I'm here to see where my peeps are, and this is a wonderful surprise. I'm overjoyed! It's bringing me to tears."
Branton Burke, editor of California Stamp News, reports that the Castro post office sold out it's stock of 10,000 Milk stamps in less than three hours.
Milk became the first openly gay public official in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated a year later alongside then-Mayor George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978.
SFGN San Francisco correspondent David Nahmod contributed to this report.