Milk group cancels SF awards show
by Matthew S. Bajko
It was to be the signature event of San Francisco's inaugural Harvey Milk Day celebrations, an LGBT awards show similar to the Kennedy Center Honors named after the city's first openly gay elected official. But less than a month after announcing plans for the Milk awards, its organizers pulled the plug on the ceremony.
Stuart Milk, the openly gay nephew of the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, told the Bay Area Reporter last week that he had decided to cancel the awards show. It was to have benefited the Harvey B. Milk Foundation, a new philanthropic institution Stuart Milk had formed with friends to carry on the message of his famous relative.
"The big gala that was planned for May 21 seemed to have lots of different issues. The general feeling from folks ... was there wasn't enough time to do one in the way it should be done," said Stuart Milk. "So it looks like we are going to shoot for something larger next year."
Harvey Milk rose to power in the late 1970s and was catapulted onto a national stage after winning his supervisor seat in 1977, the first out person to be elected to office in a major U.S. city. The following year disgruntled former supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone inside City Hall.
Three years ago openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who had served in the supervisor seat considered to be Milk's, began to campaign for the creation of a state holiday in honor of the slain gay rights leader. Last fall Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped his opposition to Leno's proposal and signed into law the legislation establishing Harvey Milk Day in California.
Leaders in San Francisco began meeting in December to plan how to mark the occasion. When the awards idea was first proposed, Milk foundation officials immediately ran into obstacles. The state's first Harvey Milk Day holiday on May 22, which would have been Milk's 80th birthday, coincided this year with the biannual Black and White Ball, a fundraiser for the San Francisco Symphony. Out of deference to organizers of the charity ball, the Milk awards producers had planned to hold it Friday, May 21 so as not to compete with the other event.
The Masonic Auditorium had agreed to donate its space for the awards show, but organizers also needed to find corporate sponsors to help cover the event costs. Stuart Milk said that due to the still struggling economy and short time frame to line up financial backers, he opted to instead postpone the awards show for a year.
"We don't have a full-time staff to put this together. It may have been more than enough for us to chew off in San Francisco," said Stuart Milk. "I am still hoping maybe next year we will get closer to an epic, epicenter type of event for San Francisco that brings all the Harvey Milk recognition activities together."
Local events producer Audrey Joseph, who has been working with Milk foundation officials to plan the various Milk Day activities in San Francisco, was audibly upset by the decision to cancel the awards show and a post-event dance in a phone interview with the B.A.R. last week. She said she had lined up several major companies as sponsors, but because of Stuart Milk's hectic travel schedule, it became impossible to properly plan the event.
"It was very upsetting to me. It was an opportunity that has passed that would have been wonderful, in the first year doing a really great event recognizing people in the community," said Joseph. "It is what it is."
Stuart Milk praised the amount of time that Joseph and Dominic Phillips, who does events marketing, had put into trying to make the awards show a go this year.
"I thought starting this in December would give us enough time. But I am not an event planner. Now I can see the amount of work involved in those types of events," said Stuart Milk. "A lot of good people in San Francisco were working under time constraints trying to pull that off. It just came down to not enough time or resources."
Joseph is still working on throwing a street festival in the Castro Saturday afternoon on May 22. She has been meeting with merchants in the gayborhood and officials at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, an alternative public school in the Castro, to help plan the outdoor event.
And still in the works is a planned diversity breakfast in honor of Milk that morning. Organizers hope to have lined up a venue by April. They are still determining what the cost of tickets will be and what time it will begin.
TJ Istvan, Emperor XXVII after Norton, who is on the board of the International Court Council, is working with leaders of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club on the breakfast. Due to the cancellation of the awards show, he told the B.A.R. this week they likely will have to plan for a larger audience than they initially were expecting to attend.
They had been seeking out venues to hold up to 500 people, said Istvan.
"Maybe we should up the ante and maybe go for a bigger number. We are also toying with the idea to make it a fundraiser for the foundation, which is something we would like to do," said Istvan. "We are going into this blind so we don't have a clue as to how many people to expect."
The San Francisco breakfast is modeled after a similar event held in San Diego last year that drew a sell-out crowd of 900. Nicole Murray Ramirez, who launched the breakfast and is president of the court council, is planning for 1,500 people or more at this year's event, which will be held Friday, May 21 and benefits the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
There are numerous events planned throughout California and the country to mark the first Harvey Milk Day. The Milk foundation's signature event this year will be a Wednesday, May 12 fundraiser at the California Museum in Sacramento being promoted as the kickoff to the various celebrations.
First lady Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan, is donating the space, which houses the California Hall of Fame into which Milk was inducted last fall by Shriver and her husband, Schwarzenegger. A VIP reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. will be a tribute to Milk based on the play Dear Harvey by Patricia Loughrey. An outdoor party open to the general public will be held after the VIP ceremony.
Ticket prices to both have yet to be announced. Kelly Hannaford, who owns event planning company Details, Details, has been working with the Sacramento Stonewall Democrats chapter and Milk foundation officials for the past month on the event.
"The hope is to see this happening every year," said Hannaford, who has known Stuart Milk for seven years. "We just hit the pavement running with it and want to make it a fabulous evening for everyone."
Stuart Milk said he was unsure if the foundation would hand out any awards at the Sacramento event as it had planned to do in San Francisco. Nor did he rule out the foundation putting on a smaller event in the city on May 21 to make up for the cancellation of the award show.
"I don't want to say there will be an event. Certainly, if there is one it will not be the size of the event planned for the Masonic," said Stuart Milk. "The folks in Sacramento seem to have a better time getting an event together and are not running up against any Blue and Black people as happened in San Francisco. I guess in San Francisco it is a challenge to pull together a large event fairly quickly."
For more info on the Sacramento event, visit http://www.harveymilkcelebration.com.