Post submitted by Micajah Cooper, HRC Public Education and Outreach Division (PEOD) Intern
Yesterday in celebration of Harvey Milk Day, the White House honored ten openly LGBT public officials as “Champions of Change” for their outstanding courage and contributions for equality in public service.
Stuart Milk, co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation and nephew of Harvey Milk, opened up the recognition ceremony discussing the legacy of his uncle and his groundwork in LGBT politics. Despite unfavorable circumstances surrounding the LGBT community during his time, Harvey Milk was as “loud and as out and proud” as he could be. He advocated the need for the LGBT community to not hide, but instead come out into the public and demand inclusion.
One of the key words that resonated throughout the ceremony was the term “authenticity.” Each honoree spoke of the importance of authenticity in the LGBT community because even if society disagreed, it would respect authenticity. Harvey Milk upheld the believe that society’s views would eventually change as long as the LGBT community continued to demand equality.
Following Stuart Milk’s speech, the honorees participated in a discussion panel to answer questions regarding the progress for equality and the issues that still exist. The discussion was concluded with a single question asked to each honoree: "What would you challenge for young leaders to do?" In her response, Representative Simone Bell of Atlanta asserted that “the more you walk through your fear, the stronger you become;” Senator Angie Buhl of South Dakota emphasized to “never underestimate the wonderful power of coming out. It is not something you do once, but is something that you do every day.”
There is still much unfinished work left for LGBT equality. Right now in 29 states, there is no state law protecting a gay, lesbian or bisexual person from being fired just because of who they are – and the same is true in 34 states for transgender people.
Harvey Milk opened the doors to lead future generations in the fight for equality. We honor his memory by commemorating those that continue in his legacy.