Bay Area Celebrates Harvey Milk Day

by Matthew S. Bajko
Wednesday May 22, 2013

From book readings to movie screenings, the Bay Area is marking the annual Harvey Milk Day with a variety of events this year.

Begun in 2010, the unofficial state holiday falls each year on May 22, Milk's birthday. The first openly gay person elected to political office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk had made a name for himself as an outspoken gay rights activist before his historic victory.

His death by an assassin's bullet in November 1978, while tragic, has led to Milk's status as an international icon for the LGBT community. His life has been turned into two Oscar-winning movies, an opera, choral works, and even children's books.

To mark what would have been Milk's 83rd birthday, city officials are organizing a reenactment of his famous "You've Got To Have Hope" speech Sunday, May 19. Milk gave the speech on June 24, 1977 at the San Francisco Gay Community Center at the campaign kick-off to announce his third bid for supervisor.

"What came to be called 'The Hope Speech' was initially conceived as a stump address, wherein Milk attempted to embolden a strong GLBTQ nationalism within the Castro, while also appealing for an alliance with other disenfranchised groups and straight folks," wrote Jason Edward Black and Charles E. Morris III in their anthology An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk's Speeches and Writings (University of California Press, 2013).

Milk would revise the speech and recite it several more times at various appearances, according to the introduction written by Black and Morris to the version they included in their book. It was a defiant speech about gay self-acceptance that included Milk's call for LGBT people to come out of the closet and inspire others to do so.

For as Milk said, particularly of LGBT youth, "And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for a place to go if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be alright."

Five people will help to recite a portion of the speech. They are Courtney Walsh and Aaron Wimmer, two actors from Dear Harvey , the recent New Conservatory Theater play about Milk's life; local poet Randall Mann, winner of the 2003 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry; Sister Roma, a 20-year member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; and lesbian political consultant Andrea Shorter, who serves on the city's Commission on the Status of Women.

The event begins at 1 p.m. in Jane Warner Plaza at Castro and Market streets. After the ceremony in the parklet the crowd will march two blocks down Castro Street to gather at Milk's former camera store and residence at 575 Castro Street.

The birthday celebration is being organized and co-sponsored by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener's office and three neighborhood groups: the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

"We could do it on his actual birthday but fewer people would be able to come," Wiener said of the decision to hold the event Sunday. "We want people in the neighborhood but also people from around the city and around the region to be able to come."

On Harvey Milk Day, which falls on a Wednesday this year, the GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th Street in the Castro will be free all day. Brief docent tours of the museum highlighting special Milk-related displays will be offered every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

That night the museum and Books Inc. are co-hosting a reading with editors Black and Morris from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the bookstore at 2275 Market Street. Also scheduled to take part are photographer and former employee of Milk's Daniel Nicoletta and Milk's speechwriter Frank Robinson. (Tuesday, May 21 the four men are also giving a talk from 6 to 8 p.m. at the city's James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center on the third floor of the main library, 100 Larkin Street.)

Immediately after the May 22 book reading there will be a party with birthday cake hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club at the Lookout, 3600 16th Street at Market. The free event is open to the public and runs through midnight.

The American Jewish World Service and Horizons Foundation, the LGBT grant-making nonprofit, are co-sponsoring a free screening of the documentary God Loves Uganda at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to mark both Milk Day and the International Day Against Homophobia, which occurs Friday, May 17.

The free event takes place at the new SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin Street. Space is limited; to reserve a seat visit

East Bay Events

Alameda is holding its fourth Harvey Milk Day Celebration Monday, May 20 at Encinal High School, 210 Central Avenue. The keynote speaker will be Anne Kronenberg, Milk's campaign manager and a co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation.

The Oakland-East Bay Gay Men's Chorus is also slated to perform at the only city-sponsored Milk day celebration in the East Bay. There will also be presentations by school students and a special activity zone for kids.

The free event begins with a buffet meal at 5:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 6. For more information visit the event page "Alameda Harvey Milk Day" on Facebook.

Later this month the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce will dedicate a civil rights monument that includes Milk among the 25 leaders depicted in the 52 feet long by 25 feet high sculpture. Other luminaries in the sculpture by Oakland native Mario Chiodo include Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks.

Called "Remember Them: Champions for Humanity," the 60,000-pound bronze monument is comprised of four sections and adorns the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park, at 19th and Rashida Muhammad streets, in downtown Oakland. A dedication ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. Friday, May 31 at the park.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a 2006 story about the project, Milk was to be the last person picked for the $4.5 million art project. But in 2011 a New York City firefighter was added to the fourth and final section as a tribute to the heroes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A piece of charred rubble from the World Trade Center is interred inside that section of the monument.

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