Harvey Milk is among the world’s most well-known LGBT leaders, and now one elected official in San Francisco wants to make sure visitors and travelers who stop there understand how important his contributions were to the struggle for LGBT equality.
Openly gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos has introduced legislation to honor Milk by adding his name to San Francisco International Airport, a hub for tens of millions of travelers every year. His bill, which would send the question to the city’s voters, quickly gained four co-sponsors after its introduction. But there’s a lot of work left to do.
Campos recently spoke with Gay Politics about the effort and what it will take to make SFO the world’s first airport to be named for an LGBT person.
GP: What exactly would your legislation do and how would it eventually lead to adding Harvey Milk’s name to SFO?
DC: I have introduced a Charter Amendment that would add Harvey Milk’s name to our airport to make it the “Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport.” Our SFO airport code would remain unchanged. In San Francisco, a Charter Amendment must be passed by the Board of Supervisors (six votes) and then passed by voters (50% +1).
GP: What’s the status of the legislation right now?
DC: There are five cosponsors of the legislation, including myself. So, we need one more vote at the Board to pass the Charter Amendment and let voters decide. However, we will first hold public hearings on the legislation and get feedback from as many individuals as possible. If people want to show their support, we have launched a petition at www.change.org/harveymilk.
GP: Have you had any push back? Is there significant opposition forming?
DC: Most people have been very supportive. We have nearly a dozen San Francisco elected leaders endorsing the legislation, along with local, state and national organizations (the full list can be found at www.harveymilksfo.com) It is a very diverse coalition. At the same time, there has been some high-profile pushback from the San Francisco Chronicle, really echoing the kind of negative statements that were made when Harvey Milk first decided to run for office as an openly-gay man almost 40 years ago. But Harvey Milk wasn’t afraid of adversity and that’s one reason he is such a fitting hero to honor with our airport name.
GP: Why Harvey Milk and not some other civil rights hero?
DC: Harvey Milk has been an inspiration to millions and is known around the world. He has been honored by President Obama, has his own day in California and is the California Hall of Fame. So many have come to San Francisco to free themselves because of what Harvey Milk did and the sacrifice he made. So it is really fitting and appropriate to put his name on our international gateway.
And this is something that many cities and regions do. There are 80 airports in the United States named after individuals. Each one expresses the values and identity of their region – for example, Norm Mineta in San Jose, Thurgood Marshall in Baltimore, and John Wayne in Orange County. Not a single airport, however, is named after an LGBT leader.
With the battle for marriage equality at a tipping point, this is the right moment – and San Francisco is the right place – to make this statement, and send out that beacon of hope that Harvey stood for across the country and around the world.
GP: What do you hope having a Harvey Milk SFO would achieve? What would it mean?
DC: I would like every one of the 40 million passengers who fly through SFO every year to engage with the continuing legacy and civil rights struggle embodied in the life of Harvey Milk. For those who are gay, and who may suffer discrimination and marginalization, it would be a beacon of hope. For others, it would be an affirmation of all we have fought for and achieved. And I believe it would do exactly what President Obama did in his inauguration speech, where he connected the struggles in Selma with struggle at Stonewall – all part of our civil rights heritage that needs to be constantly honored, strengthened and defended.
GP: What’s been the response to your legislation both within the city and beyond?
DC: There has been vast interest in the legislation here in San Francisco, across the country and around the world. The initial news coverage was picked up by dozens of national and international news outlets because it means something to people everywhere. Our petition at www.change.org/harveymilk got over 10,000 signatures the first week it was posted – a testament to how inspired people are by Harvey and this idea.
To show your support for Campos’ legislation, sign this Change.org petition.