After his assassination 35 years ago, Harvey Milk, former San Francisco Supervisor and the nation’s first openly gay elected official, may get the chance to have his name on the ballot one more time.
There have been recent efforts in the form of a ballot initiative proposed by Board of Supervisors member David Campos, to rename the San Francisco International Airport the Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport. If the initiative lands on the ballot and goes through, SFO will be faced with the task of changing the names on highway and airport signs — leaving the airport with a bill of more than $4 million, according to an SFGate report.
“This is something we’ve been thinking about for quite some time,” Campos said. “80 airports in the country are named after a person — and not one of them is named after a member of the LGBTQ community.”
Besides being known as one of the first openly gay elected politicians, Milk also sponsored a bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as working on an ordinance that required dog owners to pick up their pet’s feces.
Dan Rafter, online campaigns manager at the Human Rights Coalition, sees naming SFO after Harvey Milk as a chance to make travelers aware of Milk’s legacy.
“Honoring his legacy by placing his name on San Francisco’s airport is an inspired way to bring awareness about his work to the more than 40 million travelers who pass through SFO annually,” Rafter said.
But the road to this ballot initiative being actualized has been a bumpy one. Thus far, five members from the Board of Supervisors have signed off on the initiative — but six signatures are required for the measure to go on the ballot in November.
Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and founder of the Milk Foundation, which serves as an outreach to LGBTQ organizations, created a petition asking members of the Board of Supervisors who haven’t signed off on the ballot initiative yet to do so. Thus far, the petition has garnered over 16,000 signatures out of the 25,000 that are needed.
According to Campos, this isn’t the only opposition the proposed ballot initiative has had.
“The concerns we’ve had with people who don’t want to see the name added were with people that felt that the airport name was fine as it was,” Campos said. “Some of the opposition came from people that felt that the airport should be named after someone else.”
In fact, there have been previous efforts to name SFO after a public figure. In 1997, there was a push to name the airport after former San Francisco mayor, Joe Alioto, who had two terms from 1968-76.
Suchi Vora, a freshman computer science major, doesn’t think that adding Harvey Milk’s name to SFO is a good move.
“It’s better that it keeps the same name to tell people that this airport belongs to the city, not a person,” Vora said. “I have nothing against the LGBTQ community, but it’s better if the name is generalized.”
Stuart Milk finds the opposition the initiative has faced is similar to the resistance his uncle met when campaigning to be a member on the Board of Supervisors in 1973.
“Some of that dialogue is reminiscent of the arguments that people made about why he shouldn’t have run for office 35 years ago,” Milk said.
Campos speculates that the proposed ballot initiative comes at a time of change in the LGBTQ community.
“This year is important for LGBTQ rights, with deliberations for the right for everybody to have equal rights when it comes to marriage,” Campos said. “What better time is it to send the message that LGBTQ people are worthy?”
Campos credits Harvey Milk as an inspirational figure in his and other people’s lives.
“As an openly gay man I have been inspired by Harvey Milk and see him as a source of inspiration — he blazed the trail for people like me to be in office,” Campos said.
Whether or not SFO will be renamed Harvey Milk SFO, does not change the fact that Milk’s work has made an impact on the world.
“Harvey Milk made it his life’s work to ensure that all people marginalized by society – whether it was because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, or socioeconomic status – were recognized and treated with dignity and respect,” Rafter said. “His life and his work raised the profile of LGBT people in a profound way.”