Milk foundation pushes LGBT education efforts
by Matthew S. Bajko
A foundation whose purpose is to promote the values espoused by slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk is increasingly focused on LGBT education efforts around the globe.
Since its inception in late 2009, the Harvey Milk Foundation has worked to use Milk's legacy to promote the inclusion of LGBT history in school curriculums. Last year it teamed with the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership as a co-sponsor of its second annual conference focused on addressing LGBTQ student issues.
In California the Milk foundation has used the creation of a special day of significance for Milk, the first out person to win elective office in San Francisco and the Golden State, to push educators to teach about the former supervisor and Castro merchant each May 22, which is Milk's birthday.
Its website at http://www.milkfoundation.org has a page dedicated to teaching materials about Milk that educators can download for free. It includes a PDF of pro-gay curriculum developed by San Francisco's public school district.
Tuesday night in Sacramento the foundation hosted a public forum with state leaders to discuss legislation that requires public schools to teach about the accomplishments of LGBT people. Known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act (SB 48), it became law in January but has yet to be implemented into the state's public school curriculum standards. And anti-gay groups are trying to repeal the law at the ballot box this fall.
The aim of the forum was to push the state to begin implementation on SB 48 "in a nonaggressive way," said Stuart Milk , Milk's gay nephew.
"I believe equality in the law does not equal societal equality. If we can move SB 48 forward, I think we have a greater chance of changing things," said Milk in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter prior to the forum.
Due to existing statute, the State Board of Education is barred from adopting new instructional materials until 2015. But state lawmakers have introduced SB 1540 to push the deadline up to June 30, 2014.
Tom Adams, director of the California Department of Education's Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division, attended the Milk foundation's event with Stephanie Papas, a safe schools consultant for the state agency.
He told the B.A.R. this week that the agency's staff has been working with education leaders across the state on how they can implement SB 48.
"If we can get the opportunity to complete the history social science framework then we will address the requirements for SB 48 there," said Adams. "If SB 1540 passes then we will be able to complete it by 2014. We are not far away from finishing it."
During the forum Milk delivered to Adams LGBT education materials created by Italian officials translated into English that California schools could use for free.
Milk began meeting with the Italian education ministry in 2011 to discuss how the European country could teach students about LGBT topics. Those talks led to a recent rollout in 1,000 Italian schools of an LGBT inclusive curriculum paid for by the European Union that first debuted in Belgium.
"It is very groundbreaking. It actually takes on religion head-on and tries to find a way to be inclusive," said Milk, who just visited Italy to attend the May 4 dedication of an LGBT center in Rome named for Harvey Milk.
Milk would like to see American schools start using the material. In response to the B.A.R.'s questioning, he said he would inquire with Italian officials to see if he could circulate the curriculum for free on the Milk foundation's website.
The timeframe restrictions placed on state leaders or lack of funds for new textbooks at the district level should not preclude educators from finding ways to implement the FAIR Act, said Milk.
"There are answers and things they can do that are fiscally low cost," said Milk, who will be attending the unveiling of a Harvey Milk plaque at the Castro's Muni station this Saturday, May 19. "Sometimes there are things invented by other cultures around the globe that can be effective here."
Adams said Wednesday that he had yet to review the LGBT curriculum Milk gave him. The material is considered "non-adoptive" and will be reviewed to ensure it meets the education agency's social content standards.
"If they pass that, they would be made available for use in schools," said Adams.
Finances are opaque
In terms of the foundation's own finances and budget, it is rather opaque. While its website has a wealth of information for educators, there is very little explanation for donors about how their money is used.
Stuart Milk co-founded the foundation with Anne Kronenberg, Harvey Milk s campaign manager and political aide who now heads San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management. Formed as a 501(c)3, the nonprofit currently does not have any paid staff and is overseen by a volunteer board.
The Miami Foundation oversees its financial contributions, and therefore, the Milk foundation does not prepare its own tax reports for the IRS. The Miami Foundation does not break out the financial information for the 500 various nonprofits it sponsors on the class=profilenamefnginormousprofilenamefwb> 990s it files with the IRS.
Milk told the B.A.R. this week that in the last three years the Milk foundation has raised roughly $72,000. A spokeswoman with the Miami Foundation did not respond to requests to verify the figure by press time.
"Fundraising neither Anne nor I are good at," said Milk, who recently quit his fulltime job but works as a consultant.
The majority of the foundation's funds have covered the costs of an anti-hate crime rally held each October in London's Trafalgar Square that the Milk foundation co-organizes.
While the foundation's website says it has a speakers bureau and boasts that both Milk and Kronenberg have spoken at events around the globe, he insisted that their travel is not paid for by the foundation.
"What I will say is my income is suffering. I have dipped into my 401(k) to pay for stuff," said Milk.
The foundation has sought out fiscal sponsors to help cover its travel costs. The U.S. Embassy in Rome, for instance, paid for half of the recent visit to Italy, Milk said.
He estimated that the foundation's donations so far this year total about $5,000.
"Most of that money went into being able to do what we are doing like tonight's event, which is educational and meant to push the public policy arena," said Milk.
If it can raise an additional $6,000 in 2012, the foundation would like to hire a part-time administrator and redesign its website.
Pittsburgh Pride just announced that it is donating $2 from each ticket sold to its June 9 event, headlined by Melissa Etheridge , to the Milk foundation.
The foundation is hosting a fundraiser Sunday, May 20 at San Francisco's Infusion Lounge it hopes will net $2,000. The event will feature a runway fashion show of designs incorporating a custom-printed Harvey Milk-graphic fabric that will be auctioned off.
The party runs from 4 to 7:30 p.m. with tickets starting at $35. The club is located at 124 Ellis Street at Powell near Union Square.
"One of core focus is the story and legacy of my uncle. We think we can help build capacity of organizations around the world," said Milk. "We are not California-specific or U.S.-specific. We believe in supporting capacity building wherever we can globally."
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on how SF's main LGBT Dem clubs are working together.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.