May 22, 2014 would have been Harvey Milk's 84th birthday. To commemorate the day, the United States Post Office issued a Harvey Milk stamp to honor one of America’s first openly gay elected officials — and certainly the most visible and well-known.
Milk (1930-1978) made history when he ran for San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the City Council) during the 1970s. History was forever changed when Milk was elected to the Board in 1977 after several failed attempts.
Eleven months later, Milk and pro-gay Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall, by Dan White, a disgruntled former Supervisor who had sparred with Milk politically. During his brief time in office, Milk got San Francisco's first ordinance barring discrimination based on sexual orientation signed into law.
San Francisco has since had numerous openly LGBT Supervisors, a number of whom have gone on to higher office in State politics.
At 5 p.m. on the 22nd, an enthusiastic crowd of about one hundred gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in the heart of San Francisco's iconic gay neighborhood “The Castro.” They were there for the city's official unveiling of the Milk postage stamp. Forty-two years earlier, Milk gave his first political speech only a few feet away from where the group stood.
"The unveiling wouldn't be complete if we didn't have a down home celebration in the Castro," said Supervisor Scott Wiener, addressing the crowd. "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." Wiener, who's openly gay, currently occupies Milk's former seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Cleve Jones, a long time activist and personal friend of Milk's, also spoke. "Happy Birthday Harvey!" he proclaimed, with his fist in the air. Jones said that he and Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for authoring the 2008 biographical film "Milk" had spent that morning stationed in front of the Castro District post office.
As hundreds lined up to purchase the new Milk stamps, Jones and Black gave out postcards addressed to the Sultan of Brunei at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills CA. Brunei recently enacted Sharia Law, the fundamentalist Muslim religious code which calls for death to LGBT people. The Sultan has a stake in 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.
"When Harvey moved here, LGBT people weren't second class, we were criminals," Black said. "To now have that same government lift Harvey up is incredible."
"I'm doing my best to live out loud," said San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros, who's also openly gay.
The crowd applauded as amid cries of "We love you Harvey." Supervisor Wiener then stood before a giant cardboard cutout of the Harvey Milk stamp and uncovered it. Attendees roared with approval, singing the traditional Happy Birthday song to Harvey.
For 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. He urged people to purchase online until more stock could be obtained.