Bay Area Celebrates Harvey Milk Day
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.