Online extra: Political Notes:
Group revives effort for
a Harvey Milk stamp
by Matthew S. Bajko
An online effort is under way to honor slain LGBT rights hero Harvey Milk with a U.S. postage stamp in time with what would have been his 80th birthday on May 22, 2010.
Milk made history in November 1977 by becoming the first openly gay man to win elective office in a major U.S. city by winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Along with then-Mayor George Moscone, Milk was assassinated a year later by former board colleague Dan White.
Milk's life was turned into an Academy-Award winning movie last year starring Sean Penn, whose portrayal won the Oscar for best actor. Penn is now using his star power to push for a Harvey Milk holiday in California every year on Milk's birthday.
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is hoping the movie's success will convince Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign his bill into law this year. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year, saying efforts to honor Milk were best left to local efforts.
Now comes a Facebook group known as "Honor Harvey Milk with a U.S Postage Stamp." It had close to 9,000 members from around the nation as of last Friday, including Milk's gay nephew Stuart. Ohio resident Daniel Drent launched the group earlier this year and is hopeful approval of a Milk stamp can come in time to coincide with Milk's birthday next spring.
"I was online one night and had just recently seen the movie Milk again, and it kind of hit me. It is time we honored the work he has done and the pride and change he started for us," said Drent, a gay man who lives in Cincinnati and has seen Milk five times.
The Facebook group has 18 officers in cities across the country promoting the Milk stamp idea. In San Francisco, Don Spradlin is working to raise awareness of the campaign in the Bay Area.
"I think Harvey Milk should get a stamp, a holiday, and a highway and whatever else," said Spradlin, who turned 62 last Thursday. "The [LGBT] movement is maturing and part of that maturation is to identify heroes and leaders and he is our guy. No matter what you think about Harvey Milk as a person he has become a symbol. It is really important we have those heroes."
At the time of Milk's death, Spradlin was married to a woman living on the Peninsula. He came out as gay in 1980, and even today, he is at a loss of words when asked to describe what it was like to live through that time in the city's history.
"It just seemed like the whole world was rattling and falling apart," he said. "There was this kind of absurd craziness."
When he saw the Milk film on opening day last November, Spradlin went with friends, a gay male couple from Switzerland, visiting for Thanksgiving.
"They [were] crying throughout the movie, much more than I was," he said. "I was so impressed by that. I really loved the movie. The story was important and the fact it was impacting people from all around the world."
Drent, 45, grew up in Michigan and didn't know much about Milk's story until he saw the film for the first time. Nor does he recall hearing anything about the murders of Milk and Moscone as a teenager in the Midwest.
"That news never really hit us," said Drent, who has never visited San Francisco, except for a layover at the airport.
His goal is to have 100,000 people signed up to the Facebook group by Milk's birthday this year. Then he plans to ask supporters to write letters to the U.S. Postal Services' Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee requesting them to approve a Milk stamp.
"Everybody I have talked to about it is very excited about it. It almost feels like it is a no brainer and should have already happened," said Drent. "I think there is a good force behind it."
In fact, it is not the first time the postal service has been asked to create a stamp in honor of Milk. In October 2005 San Francisco's 11-member Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution calling on the U.S. postmaster general to issue a commemorative stamp of Milk.
The request, however, received little notice at the time and appears to have not yielded any result. A spokesman for the postal service told the Bay Area Reporter last week that a stamp for Milk is not currently under consideration.
Asked last week about the resolution, which he co-sponsored when he served on the board, state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) could not recall why the matter had been brought to the board's attention.
But he was glad to hear that the idea has since been revived, and he expressed hope that, with the success of the film, a stamp featuring Milk will finally be approved.
"Anything like this I get enthusiastic about," said Ammiano, a friend of Milk's who had a cameo in the movie. "It gives a legitimacy and says here is someone gay who really contributed to society. Traditionally and historically, stamps have not recognized that contribution before."
As for how Milk would react to seeing himself on a stamp, Ammiano joked, "I am sure Harvey would love to be licked."
The postal service has already finished the process of picking commemorative stamps it will issue in 2010, and the citizen's advisory panel will meet at a closed-door session in April to finalize the 20 to 25 stamps it will recommend to the postmaster to issue in 2011.
While an actual Milk stamp would not be released in time for his birthday next year, a decision by the committee to include a Milk stamp in its recommendation for 2012 stamps could occur next April.
"Regarding the Milk stamp, the subject is not under consideration by the committee. Obviously, that's not to preclude any individual or group from sending cards and letters to the committee in support of the subject," wrote postal service spokesman Roy Betts in an e-mail to the B.A.R.
In a phone interview, Betts said sexual orientation is not part of the advisory group's selection process. One major factor, acknowledged Betts, is how much support is generated for a certain stamp subject.
"I just encourage individuals or groups who are certainly interested in having a stamp issued on a particular subject to send cards and letters early and often in support of the subject," said Betts. "When you create or generate volumes of cards and letters in support of a subject that will certainly get the attention of the committee."
According to the stamp subject selection guidelines listed on the postal service's Web site, the main criteria used in evaluating which of the tens of thousands of stamp suggestions the panel receives each year includes the requirement that the person be deceased and that the stamps feature "American or American-related subjects."
"It really boils down to the committee's review and research on an individual's contributions. We are looking for men and women who made significant contributions to America and the world," said Betts.
Especially advantageous for the Milk stamp proponents, the list also states that, "items honoring individuals usually will be issued on, or in conjunction with, significant anniversaries of their birth."
The postal service Web site also states that subjects should be submitted in writing "at least three years in advance of the proposed date" of issuance so there is sufficient time for consideration of the proposal, and should it be selected, for the design and production of the actual stamp.
Both Spradlin and Drent expressed optimism that a Milk stamp will receive approval.
"Frankly, I have seen so many stamps over the years. If we can't get a Harvey Milk stamp, we might as well just pack it in," said Spradlin.
All stamp suggestions must be mailed to the US Postal Service Stamp Development, Attn: Stamp Design, 1735 North Lynn Street, Suite 5013, Arlington, VA 22209-6432.
The Facebook group can found at www.facebook.com.
Gays divided on next CA gov
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom may have won over LGBT people with his historic decision in 2004 to order city officials to marry same-sex couples. But that doesn't mean he has sewn up the LGBT vote for his expected run for governor next year.
Openly gay Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles) recently told the B.A.R. that he would not be supporting Newsom should his city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, enters the race as expected. Nor would he consider splitting his backing between the two city officials should they both opt to run in the Democratic Party's primary.
"I am not a fan of dual endorsements. If the mayor of Los Angeles runs, I will be with the mayor of Los Angeles," Perez said.
Ammiano, Perez's gay counterpart in the Assembly, may also not be in Newsom's corner next year. Ammiano would not commit last week to endorsing the mayor's gubernatorial run, despite the fact that, at his town hall forums around the state, Newsom has touted working with Ammiano when he served on the Board of Supervisors to create a universal health care program.
"That decision is a ways down the line," said Ammiano when asked if he would back Newsom should he enter the race.
Schwarzenegger will be termed out of office in 2010, and the race to replace him is expected to draw a wide field of candidates in both party's primaries.
Along with Villaraigosa and Newsom, Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) is expected to also take a stab at returning to his old job. And Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is mulling a run herself, though speculation is increasing she will ultimately decide to remain in Washington.
All four politicians have been heavily courting support among LGBT voters. Tonight (Monday, March 23) Brown will hold a conference call to discuss Proposition 8, the voter approved measure last fall that stripped same-sex couples in California of the right to marry. The Courage Campaign is organizing the 7 p.m. phone chat. For more info, check www.couragecampaign.org.
San Jose gay center will vote in new board
Members of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in downtown San Jose will elect a new board at a special election Tuesday, March 24. Fifteen people are running for the eight seats on the facility's oversight panel.
The four current board members opted to hold a new election for all board positions after questions were raised earlier this year about their legitimacy. The squabble over how the board members were elected to their seats led to the ouster of both the center's former executive director Aejaie Sellers and board president PJ Materese in mid-February.
As the center conducts a search for a permanent leader, it has hired Paul Wysocki on an interim basis. And to resolve any lingering doubts on the makeup of the board, the members decided to hold the board election this month.
All four current board members are running for re-election: board president Anne Hansen; vice president K. Kristian Besley; treasurer Linda Hulberg; and secretary chair Chris Flood.
Matarese is also running to regain his seat on the board. Other candidates include Luis Sarmento, owner of San Jose gay bar Renegades; Ray Mueller, an HIV-positive gay man who has worked as an event coordinator for the AIDS Coalition Silicon Valley; and Audrey Fernandez-Elliott, who has helped fundraise for Bay Area LGBT groups.
For the full list of candidates, visit www.defrank.org.
The vote will take place at 8 p.m. Tuesday night at the DeFrank center, located at 938 The Alameda in San Jose.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail email@example.com.