The U.S. Postal Service, an entity more likely to be noted for defaulting on payments for retirees’ health benefits, raising prices (a future three-cent hike on stamps) and cutting services (ending Saturday delivery) is responsible for a historic first. Last week, the Postal Service announced that it will issue a commemorative stamp of Harvey Milk, who made history 35 years ago when he became the first openly gay elected leader in the U.S.
Praising the choice of Milk for a commemorative stamp, Chuck Wolfe, President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, said,
“Harvey Milk’s legacy is alive and well. His historic run paved the way for a new generation of LGBT leaders who can be open and honest about who they are, and it’s encouraging to see the U.S. Postal Service honoring his legacy of perseverance and pride today.”
Other gay people, including Andy Warhol, have been featured on stamps; Milk would be the first gay elected leader to be so honored. John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson have all been recognized with a commemorative stamp.
It was 35 years ago that Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to represent the Haight-Ashbury and upper Market Street areas. A civil rights activist, Milk did not only champion gay rights. Other issues he advocated for were affordable housing, public transportation and expanded child care (all certainly just as pressing issues today).
On November 27, 1978, the year after he was elected, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were shot and killed in City Hall by Dan White, a supervisor who, after leaving office, was angry that the mayor had not reinstated him.
“Milk and Moscone”: their two names remain etched in my memory. I was just on the verge of turning ten years old (and beginning to read the other parts of the newspaper besides the comics) when they were killed. Riveted by the pictures of Milk and Moscone that appeared over and over on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, I asked my parents for answers which they couldn’t give. The ensuing trial of White, resulting in his conviction of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder — and the White Night Riots — only generated more questions and got me thinking about civil rights and social justice (not that I would have known how to use those terms back then).
Milk has received many posthumous accolades, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a day of recognition on California’s official state calendar. Legislation introduced to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to rename the San Francisco International Airport after Milk was tabled earlier this year after opposition from Mayor Ed Lee and from the local press. Supporters are now seeking to have one of the airport’s four terminals named after Milk.
The non-profit Harvey Milk Foundation and other civil rights groups had been advocating for Milk to be honored with a stamp for years. “We’re excited,” Stuart Milk, Milk’s nephew and the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said about the new stamp, which is to be issued in 2014. “We think this will represent my uncle’s message, which is hope and courage and authenticity, very well.”
It goes without saying that there have been huge advances in LGBT rights in the United States since Milk’s death over three decades over. It’s also very much the case that discrimination against the LGBT community, overt and subtle, remains very much in existence. In honor of Milk’s legacy, we need to continue his work against inequality, against injustice and against hate.
Photo via Jamieson Weaver/Flickr