Post submitted by Janice Hughes, Publications Director.
The life and times of Harvey Milk were lauded with cheers and whistles at a crowded White House ceremony in the nation's capital recently. Several officials, themselves known for their tireless civil and human rights work, spoke at length about Milk's pioneering role in the country's path to equality.
Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations; U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin; and Rep. John Lewis spokeat the event, a dedication of a "forever" U.S. Postal Service stamp in Milk's honor.
The White House celebration, held on Milk's 84th birthday, came more than 25 years after he became one of the country's first openly gay elected official upon winning a seat on San Francisco's board of supervisors. He was assassinated less than a year later.
Among the speakers were Stuart Milk, his nephew, and Anne Kronenberg, Milk's campaign manager, who are founders of the Harvey Milk Foundation, an organization known for its workin the United States as well as abroad.
"Harvey's message was authenticity," said Milk, who underlined his uncle's determination to fight for LGBT equality, despite the constant stream of death threats and more. He knew that it was important that "we must come out, we must be visible."
And before Milk became an icon, he was an organizer who fought hard and passionately for equality at a time when being openly LGBT was far from easy, several speakers noted.
"With this stamp, we remember, we honor an unforgettable man ... who gave his life," said Lewis. "Thank you, Harvey Milk." Amb. Powers thanked Milk for his courage in opening the doors for LGBT equality. "You have recruited us; we will be forever grateful and we will be forever changed," said Power, referring to Milk's well-known refrain. ("Hi, I'm Harvey Milk. And I'm here to recruit you.") Power also talked about the need to continue to try to improve lives of LGBT people across the world. "Hope is about envisioning a world where LGBT people have a seat at the table," she said.
There were moments of solemnity. Pelosi recalled working with Milk in San Francisco, and also standing on the steps of City Hall at his funeral. She spoke of the cascade of victories over the years, especially over the last several months, but also of the battles ahead -- like the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and to ensure that marriage equality reaches Americans everywhere, no matter where they live.
Baldwin also talked about the work ahead for LGBT equality. She noted that, as a source of inspiration, she has in her Senate office an original copy of one of Milk's speeches. Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, who is openly lesbian, performed at the event.
Near the end of the event, officials unveiled a huge, six-foot image of the new stamp, a black-and-white photo of Milk showing his characteristic dazzling smile.
It was an ironic moment to celebrate the stamp in his honor, laughed Kronenberg. She recalled that during their efforts to elect Milk, their campaign did not have enough money for postage, to mail out the campaign literatures. "Our volunteers had to hand deliver them to our constituents."
The photo used as the stamp image is one of Milk taken in front of his Castro Street Camera store in San Francisco, now the home to the HRC Action Center. In 2009, President Obama awarded Milk the Medal of Freedom.
Another dedication ceremony is slated to take place in San Francisco later this month.