ONTD Political

SF Politician Working to Rename SFO Airport to Honor Harvey Milk

1:15 pm - 01/18/2013
If six of the 11 San Francisco Board of Supervisors sign off on a ballot initiative to rename the city's current airport to the Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport, they could be making history.

"We have not found any legislation nor was there ever an actual naming of an openly gay official for an airport," said Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk's nephew. "Harvey never had a citywide election because he was elected to a supervisory district, so this has a real synergy to it that the people of San Francisco are going to be voting for Harvey Milk. I think he would have loved that."

Harvey Milk was the city's first openly gay elected politician and a champion of gay and civil rights in the 1960s and '70s. After serving for a mere 11 months as District 5 supervisor, former supervisor Dan White shot and killed Milk and Mayor George Mascone on May 27, 1978, inside San Francisco City Hall.

As of Jan. 16, District 9 supervisor David Campos had the support of five from the Board of Supervisors, including his own. Campos needs the support of one more to qualify for the majority six signatures needed to push the initiative onto the November ballot. The legislation would be voted on as a charter amendment since the San Francisco Airport, more commonly known as SFO, is referenced within the charter of the city.

Campos said in the U.S. alone there are over eight airports named after individuals, and many more throughout the world. But when he realized none of those airports featured the name of an LGBT person, he decided to act. On Jan. 15, he formally introduced the initiative to the board, and the response was "very well received." If the initiative passes in November, it will not only be a professional success but a personal victory for Campos.

"I believe as an openly gay man that we, as a community, have made contributions to a community like anyone else--that someone, somewhere name an airport after someone in this community," said Campos. "It seemed to me that San Francisco would be the right place. If not in San Francisco, then where?"

But the process requires more than just the enthusiastic support of the Milk family and Campos.

The airport, for one. SFO acting airport spokesman Doug Yakel said, "From the perspective of the airport, we don't have an opinion on the matter."

Yakel told ABC News during an SFO airport commission meeting on Jan. 15, commissioner members said that it was "an issue that requires careful consideration; it requires a thorough understanding of the financial impact, meaning, What does it cost to rename an airport? And there are many individuals who have made a contribution to San Francisco from a political perspective that warrants consideration."

Campos said this initiative is a process and would not be "something that would happen automatically."

"Nothing has been easy in the fight for LGBT rights or in Harvey's life," said Campos. "I'm hoping to have a dialogue and I think there's some resistance from people who don't want to see change. We just hope to engage in a dialogue with people, and so I'm optimistic."

In the past year, San Francisco International has seen about 43 million passengers. Yakel said that number puts SFO "among the top 10 airports in the U.S. by passenger traffic."

"It's a great opportunity to affect over 40 million people a year, even if it's just a pause for a moment," said Milk.

Although the initiative is in its early stages, the Harvey Milk Foundation is "thrilled and excited." Milk co-founded the foundation with Anne Kronenberg, Harvey's campaign manager, in 2009 after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C., on his uncle's behalf. The nonprofit organization works globally to help not just those within the LGBT community but any minority group struggling for equality, including the disabled and the elderly.

"We know that society change doesn't always catch up with legal change. So we may have a law in New York, for example, that allows gay marriage, but kids are still being picked on in Long Island," said Milk. "It's an abstract change for a lot of these young people, but going through an airport and having something at the level of a JFK and it being Harvey Milk International--that helps move societal change."

Echoing Stuart Milk, Campos said, "We, in San Francisco, haven't seen the Harvey Milk name on the ballot since he was elected supervisor. There's a very special significance to it."

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ultrasushi 18th-Jan-2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
Really hoping this works!
alexvdl 18th-Jan-2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
wrestlingdog 18th-Jan-2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
This is awesome. I hope it passes!

(I like your line at the bottom. I see what you did there.)
tabaqui 18th-Jan-2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, excellent suggestion - this needs to happen!
brittlesmile 18th-Jan-2013 11:59 pm (UTC)
I want this so bad, but I'm kind of worried that it won't happen. Still, keeping my fingers crossed: coming back to the bay already feels like coming home to me, but landing in Harvey Milk Int'l Airport would just make that homecoming all the sweeter.

EDT: fixed a typo

Edited at 2013-01-18 11:59 pm (UTC)
chickosaurusrex 19th-Jan-2013 01:28 am (UTC)
:D They should definitely do this.
wordnerd98 19th-Jan-2013 02:59 am (UTC)
Cool! I hope it happens!
lady_suzuran 19th-Jan-2013 03:31 am (UTC)
I live in SF, and there's no opposition at all to this (barely made a blip in the news). We already have a named airport(Norman Mineta in San Jose), so it shouldn't be a big deal.

And there's also Ronald Reagan Airport, so complainers need to STFU.
lizzy_someone 19th-Jan-2013 03:39 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I'd describe the Chronicle editorializing against it as "no opposition at all," but maybe you mean, like, organized campaign-y things against it? Part of me does still hope it goes through, despite my various misgivings.

Edited at 2013-01-19 03:39 am (UTC)
lady_suzuran 19th-Jan-2013 03:49 am (UTC)
Yeah, I meant organized campaign stuff. I don't read the Chronicle, but I'm not surprised they're already wringing their hands about it.

I still remember the outcry when they changed the name of a street to Cesar Chavez (pretty epic) so that's what I compare it to.
romp 19th-Jan-2013 03:33 am (UTC)
lizzy_someone 19th-Jan-2013 03:34 am (UTC)
Speaking as a local(ish) who's been following this debate in the news, I was all for it at first until I realized that:

a) it would actually be really expensive, and it's not exactly like we are living in a time of abundant budget surpluses. You want to do something for gay rights? Awesome -- spend the money on helping homeless queer kids, or anti-bullying efforts, or something a little more concrete. Symbolism is hugely important to me, but if you're going to spend tens of thousands of dollars if not more, maybe we can do a little better than re-naming an airport.

b) the white cis men get all the recognition for everything. Harvey Milk has been very publicized and honored in many ways, which is wonderful, but he wasn't the only important San Francisco gay rights activist ever to exist, and he wasn't the first one, either. Del Martin, who died a few years ago, was a San Francisco native who co-founded the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S. in 1955 (yeah, Stonewall? Totally awesome, but not the beginning of the gay rights movement), helped decriminalize homosexuality in the 60s and 70s, and was half of the first-ever same-sex couple in U.S. history to be legally married. Unlike Harvey Milk, she doesn't have an Oscar-winning biopic or a statewide day of recognition or a fancy public statue or probably even one-tenth of his name recognition. Harvey Milk was an amazing person, but his legacy does tend to unfairly overshadow some really important women. (For example: he was not actually the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the U.S.! That landmark achievement belongs to Kathy Kozachenko, a woman who nobody has ever heard of.)

THAT SAID, reallllllly not impressed with the whiners who write in to the newspaper all "HDU I WILL ONLY FLY FROM OAKLAND FROM NOW ON!!"
lolcatielol 19th-Jan-2013 05:40 pm (UTC)
You've said everything I wanted to and did it much better than I could have.
crossfire 22nd-Jan-2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
Late to my own post--I was netless for the weekend.

I just wanted to say I totally agree with you. I'm a big fan of Harvey personally, but he does get a lot of the spotlight, often times to the exclusion of others and that's really unfortunate. Especially when you consider the fact that a lot of the work Harvey did (good though it was) had its foundations on the work of other people---including Del Martin.

As for the expensive thing, I see the point but I'm not sure I agree it's wasted money. But I place a really high value on visibility, so that's probably why. I get that visibility is probably not the point of this effort (the cynical side of me thinks is straight people looking for cookies) but as a side effect it's a pretty darn good one.
lizzy_someone 23rd-Jan-2013 01:34 am (UTC)
Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to imply that it would be wasted money, I really do value visibility a lot. I just meant a lot of cities and other institutions are struggling even with basic costs right now, and this seems like a cost that should be either saved for a time of greater financial resources or spent on something even more important, not that visibility isn't important.

Actually IIRC the city supervisor advocating the name change is gay, so at least this isn't the brainchild of cookie-fishing straight people.
rjdaae 19th-Jan-2013 06:45 am (UTC)
Aww, that would be great!
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