Upbeat crowd backs
Milk SFO proposal
by David-Elijah Nahmod
An upbeat crowd of about 100 people gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall last week to express their support for renaming San Francisco International Airport after slain supervisor and gay rights leader Harvey Milk, while a poll released Wednesday shows the proposal has a steep climb.
The idea, unveiled last month by gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, has supporters and detractors. But before the proposal can be placed on the ballot for city voters to decide, Campos must secure a sixth vote from a member of the Board of Supervisors. So far, he has five, including gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, John Avalos (D11), Eric Mar (D1), and Jane Kim (D6).
Campos said that he was pleased with the February 22 rally.
"I feel very excited about the level of grassroots support for the proposal," he told the Bay Area Reporter . "As each speaker noted, Harvey Milk has a special significance for so many within and outside the LGBT community. He has become a symbol of hope for anyone who feels disenfranchised."
That hope is what is propelling support for the Milk SFO idea. The late supervisor, who was assassinated in City Hall in November 1978, continues to inspire hope in LGBT people around the world, supporters said. Many of the freedoms that are enjoyed by LGBT people today can be traced back and linked to his political campaigns, as well as to his fiery speeches. Throughout the 1970s, Milk urged people to come out at a time when LGBTs were largely invisible.
"You gotta give 'em hope," was one of Milk's best-remembered quotes. It was repeated during the rally by Stuart Milk, his openly gay nephew.
"Our kids are taking their lives," Stuart Milk said. "Harvey's story can free them. Milk Airport sends a message: here's a city that values your life. Don't take your life."
A poll released by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, however, shows 61 percent of likely voters oppose the idea, while 32 percent support it. The survey of 500 San Francisco voters was conducted January 28-30 by David Binder Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Campos told the B.A.R. Wednesday morning that from supporters' perspective, the poll is outdated and that much has changed in the last month.
"Momentum has swung in support," Campos said, adding that more national organizations have signed on.
He also said that there was initial confusion that the SFO brand would be omitted, when in fact his plan calls for adding Milk's name to SFO.
"It's one of those ideas that the more information people get, the more appealing it becomes," Campos said.
At the rally, retired Metropolitan Community Church founder the Reverend Troy Perry fought back tears as he recalled viewing Milk's body as it lay in state in the main rotunda at City Hall.
"Join my voice with the city to name SFO for Harvey Milk," Perry told the crowd. He compared Milk to the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Perry, 73, said he recently spoke about Milk at an event in Germany. "Wherever I go in the world, people ask me about Harvey Milk," he said. Perry concluded his comments by urging the city to "name SFO today for Harvey."
San Diego Human Relations Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, in town for last weekend's Imperial Court Coronation, also spoke in favor of the plan.
"You are that shining city on the hill," said Ramirez. "A city of social justice and diversity."
Ramirez, a member of the San Diego Imperial Court, hopes to get the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp in honor of Milk.
Also in attendance were Milk speechwriter Frank Robinson and Anne Kronenberg and Dan Nicoletta, both of whom worked on the Milk for Supervisor campaign.
"I think we owe it to the thousands of LGBT people who have been abused by their countries internationally by offering this small gesture in their honor and in honor of the LGBT civil rights movement," Nicoletta said in a statement to the B.A.R.
Organizations that support Campos's proposal include the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, and the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. Others who attended the rally in support included Brian Basinger of the AIDS Housing Alliance and Bill Hirsch, executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.
Wiener, who was unable to attend the event, said in an email that the renaming of SFO would send a message.
"While there are various people worthy of consideration for this honor, naming the airport for Harvey Milk would send a loud and unmistakable message about our city's support for the LGBT community," he wrote.
Campos said that among those opposed to the idea is the Chamber of Commerce, because officials fear it will interfere with the SFO brand. But he disagrees with that position.
"As I understand it, the chamber doesn't want the airport named after anyone so as to protect the San Francisco International Airport brand. In response, I note that we are keeping the name," Campos said in an email. "We are simply adding Harvey Milk's name to the existing name. We get the best of both worlds: we keep the existing brand and get the benefit of Harvey who has become an international symbol of hope."
For its part, the chamber favors sticking with SFO for the airport's name.
"The name, and the acronym SFO, are familiar to millions of people who visit or dream of visiting our city," said Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Gwen Oldham. "The chamber reiterates that altering the name of the airport in any way will reduce and dilute the spotlight that San Francisco International Airport enjoys on the world stage."
Oldham also said that the chamber is concerned with the cost of any name change, which is estimated at $4 million.
Campos disputed that figure, saying most of it is for signage. He indicated that the highway signs could be replaced over time by Caltrans and don't need to be replaced right away should the name change occur.
"It's definitely under $1 million," Campos said of cost estimates for the name change.
The chamber thinks Milk's name should grace something else.
"Harvey Milk is a revered figure in San Francisco history and is deserving of recognition," Oldham added. "The chamber continues to recommend that a more appropriate alternative or facility be identified to honor Harvey Milk."
The B.A.R. and the San Francisco Chronicle have editorialized against the plan.
As of this week, Stuart Milk's petition at Change.org in support of naming SFO after Harvey Milk had over 20,000 signatures.
As reported in last week's B.A.R. , backers have also launched a website, www.harveymilksfo.com.
James Patterson and Cynthia Laird contributed to this article.