On Wednesday, May 22, the day the slain gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk would have celebrated his 83rd birthday, President Obama honored 10 openly gay elected or appointed officials as Harvey Milk Champions of Change for their commitment to equality and public service.
“When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office. Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants,” Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said in a press release.
Of the 10 honorees, three are from California: State Sen. Ricardo Lara of Long Beach, Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, and John Laird, California Secretary of Natural Resources from Santa Cruz. Additionally, Gin and Lara, along with Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner Kim Coco Iwamoto from Honolulu and Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman from Denver are David Bohnett Leadership Fellows, a very important program through the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund that develops LGBT political leaders. (The program is not limited to gays and lesbians. Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, for instance, was a Bohnett Fellow in 2012.)
Gin, who ran for Congress in 2011 as a moderate Republican, attended the White House ceremony with his husband of five years, Christopher Kreidel. Gin said:
“Supervisor Milk was an amazing individual and leader, not only for San Francisco, but for our nation and for our entire LGBT community. He served at a time when it was very difficult to be out as a gay man, much less to be an elected public official and out,” Gin said. “To be honored with an award that bears his name is extremely humbling to me, and perhaps will be one of the greatest honors I think that I will ever receive. Supervisor Milk made it possible for me to live in a world where out members of the LGBT community can serve their communities and our Nation openly and proudly. I am deeply humbled and thrilled to be named as a Harvey Milk Champion of Change by the White House.”
Lara also released a statement of appreciation:
“I am humbled to be included among such an amazing array of LGBT leaders. The fact that three Californians are being honored is telling of the essential role that California plays in advancing equality. Though much has changed since Harvey Milk’s time, we still have an incredible sense of responsibility to live up to the promises of change that he lived and died for. As an organizer and activist, he worked with leaders of marginalized communities, including the late Cesar Chavez, to empower and to advocate for dignity and freedom. His legacy inspires me to carry out the work on behalf of marginalized communities and those who do not have a voice in our government.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, May 21, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA-41) took to the floor of the US House of Representatives, first to join Rep. Karen Bass in expressing sorrow and offering help for the victims of the Oklahoma tornado and then to read into the record the words of Harvey Milk:
"Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that he or she is gay; knows that if their parents find out they will be tossed out of the house, their classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs are doing their part on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet and suicide.
"And then one day that child might open the paper that says, "Homosexual elected in San Francisco," and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected, I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said, "Thanks."
"And you've got to elect gay people, so that thousands upon thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world; there is hope for a better tomorrow.
"Without hope, not only gays, but those who are Blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us's: without hope, the us's give up. I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope."
Those words, Mr. Speaker, were spoken by Harvey Milk. It is with tremendous honor and gratitude that I enter them into the Congressional Record on his behalf and all of the "us's" in our Nation.”
The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White house to feature groups of Americans – individuals, businesses and organizations – who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.
You can learn more about the White House Champions of Change program and nominate a Champion here.