Harvey Milk Exhibit Offers Insight Into a Life RememberedHarvey Milk

by Hilton Collins

There’s an old saying that when people are being judged, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The way we look, the way we talk — those things don’t really matter. If Harvey Milk were here, he’d probably add that people shouldn’t judge each other based on sexual orientation either.

A handy way to judge Milk himself might be by his accomplishments, and anyone who wants to get a good look at what Milk has achieved should take a trip to the California Museum of Women, History, and the Arts in Sacramento.

In recognition of Harvey Milk Day, the Museum is hosting Harvey Milk A Celebration! on Wednesday, May 12. Special guests for the event include actors Chad Allen and Daniela Sea from Showtime's The L Word and Harvey's nephew Stuart Milk. There will be a VIP Reception 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. that includes a reading of excerpts from Dear Harvey

From 7 - 10 p.m. their will be a reception in the Museum's Courtyard, with live music, gourmet food and an open bar. For more information, visit HarveyMilkCelebration.com or call 916-443-3896. The museum is located at 1020 o St.

The items there are shining examples of a legacy that will last for generations to come.Harvey Milk

Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He blazed a trail through the political world and was responsible for the passing of a SF City gay rights civil ordinance bill in April of 1977.

He and Mayor George Moscone were murdered in November 1978 by ex-supervisor Dan White, who had resigned but decided he wanted his job back.

It was a tragic end to a short and amazing political career that could have created more milestones for gay Americans had there been more time.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, and there are a lot of people out there who will tell you what Harvey would have done had he lived,” said Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew. “I can’t tell you what he would have done, what office he might have achieved, but I can tell you that he would have been successful.”

The museum exhibit is a testament to the success he’d already achieved. Visitors will see his supervisor’s badge and a copy of his oath of office. There are numerous photos of Milk — candid, personal ones, like a photo of him at age nine with his family and another of him toasting at his brother’s wedding — and others taken when he was famous and older, like him at a 1978 Gay Day parade after he’d taken office. There are campaign buttons, a poster and copies of media devoted to him, including a DVD of the movie “Milk,” starring Sean Penn.

“Most of the photographs and items were either loaned to the museum by myself or through folks that I got those items loaned to the museum by,” Stuart said.

Stuart founded the Harvey Milk Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for LGBT rights. Stuart was 17 when his uncle was assassinated, but he’s helping to carry on Harvey’s memory through the foundation’s work and the exhibit.

He feels that the exhibit speaks to the spirit of not only Harvey and the LGBT community but also to all communities of marginalized and disenfranchised people.

Milk was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in December 2009, months after Stuart accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on Milk’s behalf in August at the White House.

Stuart wondered if press about the medal in Washington, D.C., would overshadow the opening of the exhibit in Sacramento. “I was worried that the Hall of Fame would be usurped by the Presidential Medal of Freedom in terms of media and publicity. That actually, I don’t think, happened.”

The medal is currently on display at the exhibit as one of the most prominent pieces. Another notable item is a bronze bust of Milk that’s a smaller version of one that stands in San Francisco City Hall. Another item on display is Milk’s pocket watch, one of the more personal.Harvey Milk

“There are a couple of items that have never been on display. One is Harvey’s pocket watch, which actually belonged to my grandfather. It was given to my grandfather by my grandmother, Minnie Milk, whom Harvey was extremely close to,” Stuart said.

There are also contents of an urn there, which include a lock of Milk’s hair, a piece of a rainbow flag and a cassette tape recording.

“Harvey liked publicity, so I think he would be very pleased that his work is being publicized today,” Stuart said. “He was the voice that always told me to embrace not only my own differences but the differences of everyone around me, and how important that was to the world.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill in 2009 authorizing that every May 22 would be recognized as Harvey Milk Day in California from that year forward. This coming May, the state will experience its first ever official Harvey Milk Day, and there are other events planned that will lead up to its debut. On May 12, the museum will host a kickoff event for a series of others that will follow.

“It’s not just a day of recognition for Harvey. It’s a day of recognition of anyone who still feels different and unaccepted by members of the community and in some cases by their collective community, and so it’s really a day of freedom and celebration of our diversity and our differences that everybody can take part of,” Stuart said.

The Harvey Milk Exhibit, part of the California Museum’s Hall of Fame presentation is ongoing. You can find more information about the museum on their web site: www.CaliforniaMuseum.org.

For more information about events surrounding Harvey Milk Day in Sacramento go to: www.EqualityActionNow.org.

Hilton Collins is a Sacramento-based writer who’s covered a variety of topics, from information technology to celebrity interviews to lifestyle features.

 

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