Milk march attracts huge crowd
by Matthew S. Bajko
Gyl Rosenblum vividly remembers meeting Harvey Milk as a teenager in the mid-1970s when she lived on Castro Street in the heart of the city's then burgeoning gayborhood. Living mere doors down from Milk's Castro Camera store, Rosenblum would frequent the business.
Milk went on to become the first out gay man elected to political office in a major U.S. city when he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year later Milk, along with then-Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated in his City Hall office on November 27, 1978 by former board colleague Dan White.
The night of their deaths Rosenblum joined the crowd in front of City Hall mourning the slain leaders. Now living across the bay in El Cerrito, Rosenblum returned to the city last week to once again remember her former neighbor.
"It felt like it was time to commemorate it," said the 50-year-old Rosenblum, who was joined by her partner of three years, Ann Williams.
Williams, 59, was an out lesbian living in Oakland at the time. Pregnant and near her due date, she was unable to attend the candlelight vigil that night in 1978.
"It was just stunning. It was just an awful thing, to have a powerful gay leader just eliminated so quickly," said Williams. "I remember seeing him walking by once. You could see he could have gone far. He really did have charisma."
The couple joined close to 1,000 people who had gathered in front of City Hall and then marched to the location of Milk's old camera shop on Castro Street Friday, November 28 to mark the 30th year since the assassinations. [The annual ceremony had been pushed back a day due to the actual anniversary falling on Thanksgiving this year.]
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, whose first public performance was the night of the deaths, returned to the steps of City Hall to sing once again. Friends, relatives, and colleagues of both Milk and Moscone eulogized the men many credit with opening the doors of the city's political power to gays and people of color.
"Tonight is very bittersweet for many. Every time we gather our hearts are heavy with what happened," said recently sworn-in state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a friend of Milk's who followed him into politics. "Harvey Milk would be very bemused today to see where history has placed not only him, but us, the community and his legacy."
He said Milk's true acumen was his ability to form coalitions among disparate groups of people and his fearlessness when he moved to San Francisco in living life as an openly gay man.
"I don't think we will ever forget. You can kill the messengers but not the message," said Ammiano.
Jonathan Moscone, the openly gay son of Moscone, attended the memorial with his mother, Gina. He said although his father's tenure as mayor was short, he left a lasting impression on the city.
"What George saw in this city, he saw great possibilities. In a minute's time he was an agent of change," said Jonathan Moscone. "The deep hole in our hearts has never been refilled due to George's death. He was this city's, if not one of this country's, greatest man."
Former Mayor Willie Brown, who was a close friend and former classmate of Moscone's, said despite their deaths, the progressive changes Moscone and Milk pushed through last to this day.
"This city has never gone back to what it was after those two were elected," said Brown. "Those two individuals literally shaped the nature of politics and public policy in this city. ... This city, state and nation would be a far more interesting place if Harvey and George had lived."
Stuart Milk, the openly gay nephew of Harvey Milk, said the anniversary of his uncle's and Moscone's deaths is "always very emotio
His mother Audrey Milk, Harvey's sister-in-law, returned to San Francisco this year for the first time since 1978 when she came out for the funerals. She did not attend the annual march, but she did share with her son for the first time a letter Harvey had written to his brother's family shortly before he was killed.
In it he professes his desire to leave behind for the next generations a world not filled with hate but love, said Stuart Milk.
"Harvey's message was of love and courage. My family got tremendous amounts of hate mail when Harvey was killed. My parents changed their phone number, as well as me at college," he said. "But the hate does not live on. The world is so much further along today than it was 30 years ago."
Among the crowd in the Civic Center was Dan Jinks, a producer of the new biopic Milk about the life of the gay rights leader that had opened in select cities just two nights before. In the area to celebrate the holiday with his sister, who lives in Lafayette, Jinks said he found the tribute to Milk and Moscone to be moving.
"It's just something we were constantly reminded of making the movie. We were making a movie of a person who had made a difference and died tragically," said the openly gay Jinks. "I wanted to be here for it for I continue to be inspired by Harvey Milk on a daily basis."
Diamond Heights resident Patrick Cosson, 46, said he came to the march in order to keep Milk's memory and legacy alive.
"I am appalled by the young generation not knowing who Harvey is," said the openly gay Cosson. "I just can't assume that they know who Harvey was and what he stood for."
At a time when a person could lose their job solely for being gay, Milk pushed LGBT people to come out of the closet and demand equal rights. Cosson said Milk was instrumental to his accepting his own sexual orientation.
"He was very important to my coming out process," said Cosson, who was born in France but moved to America and came out while living in Cincinnati in 1980.
Openly gay San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros told the crowd assembled outside Milk's old camera store that his political success can be traced back to Milk's historic victory.
"I am so proud to be standing on the shoulders of incredible heroes who have gone before us," said Cisneros.
Openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty said if anything can be learned from Milk's legacy, it is that the LGBT community cannot be afraid to show itself, especially in the fight for marriage equality. He said that message comes through loud and clear in the film when it depicts Milk's successful campaign to defeat Prop 6, an anti-gay measure that would have barred gay people from teaching in public schools.
"You see in the movie how Harvey had to fight the No on 6 campaign to show who we are. Going forward we have to have any campaign speaking to the diverse nature of California," said Dufty, alluding to complaints that the No on Prop 8 campaign this year to defeat an anti-gay marriage measure did not showcase LGBT couples. "I hope everybody gets that lesson from the movie. We are who we are and people need to know us to accept us. It is something I take everyday from Harvey."