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Orange County will mark Harvey Milk Day

The county Board of Supervisors reverses stance in honoring the San Francisco gay rights activist.

December 20, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Gay rights activist Harvey Milk, left, is shown with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in 1977.
Gay rights activist Harvey Milk, left, is shown with San Francisco Mayor… (Associated Press )

In addition to Constitution Week, Cyber Security Awareness Month and Wear Red for Women Day, Harvey Milk Day will now be officially recognized in Orange County.

The decision marks a reversal for Orange County supervisors, who twice previously refused to set aside a day to honor the birthday of the slain gay rights activist, who was a supervisor in San Francisco when he was gunned down in 1978.

Supervisors voted Tuesday to adopt a yearly list of proclamations that included Harvey Milk Day. Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who helped activists get the day on the list of more than 90 proclamations, said he understands that the recognition is symbolic.

"He was a sitting supervisor," said Nelson of Milk. "The significance wasn't lost on me."

The state officially marked Harvey Milk Day in 2009, and this year San Diego named a street in his honor. Long Beach also broke ground on Harvey Milk Promenade Park earlier this year.

The issue was a sensitive one in Orange County, since one of Milk's final battles was to take on then-state Sen. John V. Briggs, a Fullerton resident who pushed a state initiative that would have given school boards the authority to fire openly gay teachers.

The conflict was featured in the movie "Milk," in which Sean Penn played the activist. The Briggs initiative was defeated in 1978.

After a May board meeting at which supervisors declined to recognize the day, Nelson said he would help local activists get it on the list.

He said it was simple, and that he expected that "it would go right through."

Nelson said that in general he is not in favor of proclamations because he believes that they don't accomplish anything.

"I just found it extraordinary that they were never put on the list," he said. "They just hadn't had the timing down," he said of activists.

Archer Altstaetter, a founder of the Orange County Equality Coalition, said the decision is meaningful for the county.

"We have a very, very, very conservative Board of Supervisors," he said. "I think they are finally aware that it's not a white conservative Orange County."

He said the decision will also bolster future Harvey Milk events in Orange County. This year, the celebration of the activist's birthday was like a "mini gay pride" event with more than 1,000 people attending, he said.

"We're just fully acknowledged," he said. "We're no longer ignored."

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