Castro ready to celebrate Milk Day
by Matthew S. Bajko
The city's Castro District is ready to celebrate the first Harvey Milk Day in honor of its former self-proclaimed "Mayor of Castro Street." The celebrations begin with several breakfasts Saturday, May 22 – on what would have been Milk's 80th birthday – and culminate with a special screening of the Oscar-winning documentary on the celebrated gay politician's life and a special tea dance fundraiser Sunday night.
Saturday afternoon, a new, larger plaque featuring Milk and one of his quotes will be unveiled in front of where he had his camera store and apartment on Castro Street. Speakers at the dedication ceremony will stand on a soapbox specially made for the unveiling.
The Castro Theatre is offering a free screening of Milk , the Academy-Award winning movie about the gay rights hero Saturday morning. There will also be a family-friendly, mini street fair in front of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy that day.
"Hopefully, this will drive people and business to the Castro," said Audrey Joseph, an out lesbian event planner who has helped oversee the local plans for Milk Day. "We want the whole neighborhood to theme out with a 1970s theme."
Milk arrived in the city's then-newly emerging gay neighborhood in the early 1970s and quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with, organizing gay merchants, fighting police harassment and raids on gay bars, and launching a street fair that continues to this day.
He also became a leading voice for gay political activism. In his columns in the Bay Area Reporter, Milk harangued not only straight politicians for not supporting LGBT rights but also criticized those in the gay community who refused to come out and demand their place in society.
He took his own advice to heart and ran numerous times for city and state offices. When he finally won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 1977, Milk became the first openly gay person to win elective office in a major U.S. city.
The following year he led to passage a pro-gay non-discrimination policy in San Francisco and helped defeat a homophobic state ballot measure known as the Briggs initiative in the fall of 1978. Only weeks after that electoral win Milk's life came to a stunning end when former board colleague Dan White assassinated him and then-Mayor George Moscone in City Hall.
Three decades later California is set to celebrate the first state holiday to recognize an out LGBT person's contributions to society. While events and commemorations are being planned around the state and country, San Francisco's festivities will largely be centered in the neighborhood Milk called home.
Plans for a glitzy, star-studded awards show and dance sponsored by the newly created Harvey B. Milk Foundation fell through for this year. Instead, the nonprofit is hosting a "Diversity Brunch" that will feature Stuart Milk, Harvey's openly gay nephew, and Milk campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, who both helped launch the foundation last year.
The breakfast will also feature special guest Natalie Jones, who was initially barred last year from presenting a paper about Milk to her sixth-grade class at Mt. Woodson Elementary School in R
"We are going to have her give her report, uncensored of course," said TJ Istvan, an organizer of the breakfast.
It is modeled after a similar event held for the first time last year in San Diego. Organizer Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a columnist for the San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, will also be in attendance at this year's San Francisco brunch, as will local photographer and Milk confidante Dan Nicoletta.
More than half of the $65 tickets for the breakfast are already sold. They can be purchased online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/108012.
With seating limited to 200 people, Istvan cautioned, "We are not going to have tickets available at the door."
A less expensive "Hotcakes for Harvey" $10 per person breakfast will benefit the Castro school named after Milk. Located on 19th Street between Collingwood and Diamond, the alternative public school will also unveil a new civil rights mural that day and play host to the "Milk and Cookies Street Fair" with games, booths and family-friendly entertainment between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There will also be a talk for educators to learn about Milk and his accomplishments.
At 7:30 p.m. that night, the school will also host a benefit screening of The Times of Harvey Milk. Admission costs $10.
"The Milky Way kids space is a place for families to come and a teach-in will be held for educators to come to learn more about Harvey," said school principal Christina Velasco.
Saturday at 2 p.m. the city will officially open the upgraded pedestrian plaza at 17th and Market streets. The streetcar on the historic F-Line dedicated to Milk will be parked at the plaza that day. Immediately afterwards will be the new Milk plaque unveiling at 575 Castro Street.
The Castro Community Benefit District paid $9,000 for the 20 by 20 inch bronze marker, cast by the same people who created the Milk bust in City Hall. It will be laid next to the existing plaque in the sidewalk. District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty chose the quote from Milk.
The GLBT Historical Society is installing an exhibit about Milk in the windows of the now vacant storefront which will be up through the end of June. Sunday night a tea dance dubbed Milk Shake hosted by Castrobear Presents will partly benefit the gay archival group. For ticket and venue information visit http://www.milkshake2010.com.
For a full list of the San Francisco Milk Day events, including times and locations, visit http://www.milkday.org.