by Rex Wockner
A bill to make Harvey Milk’s birthday a state holiday passed the California Assembly’s Education Committee April 23 in a 7-3 vote.
If the measure clears both houses of the Legislature, the date May 22 will become a “nonfiscal” holiday, meaning it should not cost the state money.
“Harvey Milk knowingly risked his life because he believed that by living as an openly gay man he would help achieve full equality for all people,” said Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors. “His courageous leadership and vision has inspired three decades of progress in the fight to protect (LGBT) people across the nation. A statewide day of recognition in his honor would remind us that we all have the power to create positive social change and that we all have the right to live openly and with dignity and respect.”
The bill also encourages public schools and educational institutions to teach students about Milk, who often is missing from history lessons.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, called Milk “a true American hero who gave hope to a generation of gay and lesbian individuals.”
Born in 1930, Milk settled in San Francisco’s Castro district in 1972 and opened a camera store. He went on to pioneer a populist gay-rights movement in the city and, in 1977, was elected to the Board of Supervisors, the equivalent of a city council.
Milk was the first openly gay candidate elected in any large U.S. city and only the third openly gay candidate elected in U.S. history — after Elaine Noble, who was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1975, and Kathy Kozachenko, who was elected to the Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council in 1974.
Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death inside San Francisco City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978, by then recently resigned city Supervisor Dan White, who was angry that Moscone wouldn’t let him un-resign and that Milk had lobbied Moscone not to reappoint White.
White’s lenient sentence for the killings (seven years and eight months with parole) led to the famed White Night Riots in San Francisco on May 21, 1979.
White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter on the grounds of diminished capacity, which, his lawyer argued, resulted from depression exacerbated by eating too much junk food. This unusual argument became known as the “Twinkie defense.”
In the White Night Riots, a large crowd of gay people gathered at City Hall the evening of White’s sentencing and burned police cars, broke windows of cars and stores, and destroyed the overhead electric wires that power city buses. More than 160 people were hospitalized as a result of the melee.