By Luke Thomas
February 23, 2013
As many as two-hundred supporters representing a growing coalition of organizations convened Friday on the steps of City Hall to rally support for the renaming of San Francisco International Airport in honor of Harvey Milk, the slain civil rights leader and LGBT icon.
“What we’re talking about is San Francisco leading the way when it comes to not just LGBT rights, but civil rights, becoming the first city in this country to honor an openly LGBT leader by adding his name to the airport,” said Supervisor David Campos, an openly gay man who has five of six co-sponsors needed on the Board of Supervisors to place his charter-amending proposal before voters in November. “There are eighty airports in this county that are named after individuals and not a single one of them is an openly LGBT person – and if that’s going to happen somewhere, shouldn’t that happen in San Francisco, and if not San Francisco, where, and if not now, why?”
Milk was the first openly gay person elected to public office in the US. He was a district supervisor for eleven months when he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White – a conservative Catholic – at City Hall on November 27, 1978. Milk has since become an icon in San Francisco and a global martyr for LGBT liberation. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Thirty-five years hence, religious dogma, ignorance and political frailty, continue to undermine acceptance that homosexuality is not a life choice. In as many as 70 countries, homosexuality remains illegal and punishable, in some extreme and unfathomable instances, by death.
Renaming SFO in Milk’s honor will serve as a symbol of global LGBT acceptance, said former Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
“San Francisco has been a beacon for people around the world to look at diversity, to look at acceptance, to look at a community that can truly live together, and I think Harvey Milk SFO would be a beacon for people,” Dufty said. “They would recognize that this is a renaming that hasn’t taken place anywhere in the world and I think it would be very powerful and I think it would continue our tradition for generations to come.”
Asked to comment on whether the airport renaming proposal will anger homophobes and religious zealots, Dufty told Fog City, “I think time is changing that. You can’t look at the newer generations and see queer people who are unencumbered by the process of coming out oftentimes; you can see younger straight people for whom the issue of marriage equality is not an issue at all. It’s something that they get. So I think that things are changing and, honestly, in 20 years I don’t think that there would even be a debate or a discussion. I think this would get an 11-0 vote and I think that the fact that there is more of a struggle now, is just a sign of the times, so to speak. We’re not where we need to be.”
Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and Scott Weiner have each co-sponsored Campos’s proposal. Yet to demonstrate their support for the proposal: Supervisors London Breed, Malia Cohen, David Chiu, Mark Farrell and Norman Yee.
“A lot of people tell me that they are looking forward to this because one of their life regrets is that they never had the opportunity to campaign for Harvey, and now they can,” Dufty added.
“I’m totally in love with this idea,” added California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who spearheaded opposition with help from Milk and others to defeat the 1978 Briggs Initiative, a failed statewide ban on gays working in California schools. “When you think of John Wayne Airport and Ronald Reagan Airport – I wouldn’t exactly call them human rights advocates – Harvey’s contribution is even more than being a gay man. His contribution made the quality of life in San Francisco better. He wasn’t narrowly focused. The idea that people would fly into an airport with his name and what it represents has excited a lot of people across the nation.”
Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, summed up his uncle’s political drive and philosophy saying, “My uncle said it best: ‘It was not about me as a candidate, it was about a candidacy of a people. It was about a movement,’” Stuart Milk said, “and so Harvey Milk International Airport sends a message to everyone who has ever been, or is currently being diminished or marginalized in every corner of the Earth, that here is a city that recognizes your value and your worth.”