A candle-lit crowd gathered in the Castro District this week to celebrate the legacy of slain Supervisor Harvey Milk on the 34th anniversary of his murder by Supervisor Dan White.
As the Brass Liberation Orchestra played, people clustered around a memorial made of flowers framing Milk’s portrait. Hosted by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, speakers included Supervisors David Campos and Christina Olague and California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.
While the event was held on the anniversary of his assassination, along with his ally Mayor George Moscone, it was an event to commemorate the life of a pioneer in the movement for gay rights.
“We need to keep his memory and principles in mind always and keep that alive,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener. “It’s not just about mourning his death, it’s about remembering what he stood for.”
Supervisor David Campos said in a speech that he was there “not as a supervisor, but as a Latino gay male.” He pointed out how the struggle for immigrant rights, or that of any disenfranchised group, is central to Milk’s philosophy.
Milk paved the way for him as an LGBT politician, Campos added in an interview. “He wasn’t just fighting for LGBT rights,” he continued. “He was fighting for all people.” He also added that Moscone had an important role in showing the value of “having allies outside the (gay) community.”
For Milk’s former campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, the anniversary had an additional personal weight. “I was so devastated that I had to withdraw. It was too painful,” she said of the day he was murdered. “He was my friend and mentor. I felt like I had a huge hole in my heart.”
State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano worked with Milk on the movement against the Briggs Initiative, which aimed to ban homosexuals from teaching in the state of California. Ammiano reminded the crowd that, although Milk is now embraced by the mainstream, he wasn’t always popular.
“Remember, Harvey Milk was an outsider to the gay establishment,” he said. “He recognized the connection between all the disenfranchised.”
Supervisor Christina Olague recounted how she passes Harvey Milk’s statue on the second floor of city hall every day, and asks him questions about how to vote on different issues, like the nudity ban. She said his memory also prompts her to ponder: “Who am I and what do I represent?”
After the speeches, the crowd marched with the band down Castro Street to the Human Rights Campaign Action Center & Store, which was once Castro Camera, Milk’s shop and campaign headquarters.
Martin and Shelli Rawlings-Fein were there to show their children, Sadie, 7, and Matthew, 18 months, what a march was like, but also to pass along some of Milk’s spirit.
“I want them to know they have a right to speak up for what they think is right,” said Shelli. “Just (be) who you are and (don’t) be ashamed.”