Sean Penn, who won Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards for his role in “Milk” a biopic on the life of gay politician Harvey Milk, is pushing to have a bill revived that would designate the 22nd of May Harvey Milk Day in California.
This comes after Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill last year claiming that, whilst Harvey Milk should be honored in San Francisco, where he became the first openly gay elected official to the area, his story did not have wide enough appeal to institute a state-wide celebration. It seems that Penn believes Harvey Milk’s appeal might have broadened somewhat since the release of the Oscar winning film.
The History of the Harvey Milk Bill
State Senator Mark Leno first introduced the bill back in February of 2008. It was called AB 2567 and was to “encourage public schools and educational institutions to conduct suitable commemorative exercises on that date,” in order to educate pupils about Milk’s life, his historic rise to a place of power, and his tragic murder.
In the Assembly, the bill passed with a convincing 45-23 vote. The Senate then voted, and although closer, the bill for a Harvey Milk Day, AB 2567, passed with a vote of 23-13 through the Senate. It was then vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger on the 30th of September 2008.
There had been considerable vocal opposition from anti-gay groups and religious conservatives who were of the opinion that this bill was a way to push a “homosexual agenda” on children, given the man Harvey Milk was and his liberal attitudes to sex, gender identity and his derisive opinions of organized religion.
At the time, Equality California, who had also sponsored the bill, released a statement showing their disappointment at the veto of AB 2576:
“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of this bill is a disappointment to thousands and thousands of Californians who regard Harvey Milk as a national hero. This is a sad reminder of the lack of understanding of both the LGBT community and of the impact of Harvey Milk. As one of the first openly gay leaders in this country, Milk inspired Americans in every corner of our nation to stand proud in the face of adversity, and he gave his life in the pursuit of equality. This fall, his story will be celebrated in movie theatres nationwide as a tribute to a legacy that extends far beyond California.” -EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors
The revival of the bill comes during an important week for California State and the gay rights movement as a whole as a legal challenge is launched against Proposition 8. Considering this, should Proposition 8 be overturned, the synergy of the two events might be an appropriate way to commemorate the life of civil rights beacon Harvey Milk. After all, mindful that an assassination attempt was possible, Harvey Milk said in a speech just days before his death, a speech that resonates powerfully now:
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”