By Nicole Murray Ramirez | Conversations with Nicole
San Diego’s role in retaining the history of Harvey Milk
San Diego’s LGBT community has always been proud that Harvey Milk was stationed in our city in the 1950s while serving proudly in the U.S. Navy. Harvey fell in love with California in San Diego and when he returned after going back to his native New York, he moved to San Francisco and the rest is indelibly inscribed in LGBT history.
I was introduced to Harvey Milk in the early 1970s by War World II veteran and the first openly gay candidate to run for public office (1961): Jose Julio Sarria. We worked together against the homophobia crusades of Anita Bryant and John Briggs. When Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978, it shook many of us and saddened me personally very much. The first award named after Harvey was established in San Diego at the annual Nicky Awards held in 1979: The Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award. In the 1980s, the then-named Harvey Milk Democratic Club of San Diego County dedicated a park bench in Balboa Park in front of the Fleet Science Center in his memory. The city of San Diego’s Human Relations became the first government body in the state to officially endorse the legislation by then-Sen. Mark Leno to declare Harvey’s birthday (May 22) a holiday and special day of recognition.
“Dear Harvey,” the award-winning play, had its world premiere at Diversionary Theatre in San Diego.
The prestigious Harvey Milk Honors were established in San Diego and the first presentations of the medals were awarded by Harvey’s nephew, Stuart Milk. The inaugural honorees included Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Commissioner Robert Gleason. Stuart Milk was also honored in San Diego as an Honorary Citizen by Sanders and presented a key to the city by former Mayor Bob Filner.
In the tradition of the San Diego Martin Luther King and the Cesar Chavez annual memorial breakfasts, the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast was established in San Diego 10 years ago and is the first such Milk event which draws more than 1,000 people annually. And of course, we are so proud that the first city street in the world named after Harvey Milk was dedicated in Hillcrest and leads to the door of our San Diego LGBT Community Center! And yes, I am proud to be the founder and national chair of the successful campaigns to get the U.S. Harvey Milk postage stamp and the USNS Harvey Milk Naval vessel, which begins construction in San Diego next year and will be dedicated in our city when finished. These campaigns were launched in San Diego and were accomplished due to the efforts of the oldest LGBT organization in North America: The International Imperial Court System of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (est.1965)
As a proud national board member of the Harvey Milk Foundation, I went to San Francisco a few years ago and spoke at a rally on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall to support the efforts of then-Supervisor David Campos to get a San Francisco International Airport terminal named after Harvey Milk. A few weeks ago, Mayor Mark Farrel signed legislation renaming one of the terminals after Harvey.
At this year’s 10th Anniversary Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast (Friday, May 18 … get your tickets today! … always sold out) renowned author Lillian Faderman will premiere and sign her latest book “Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death.” Faderman will also be honored at the Milk breakfast with a Lifetime Achievement Award and lives in La Jolla with her partner of 46 years, the wonderful Phyllis.
Yes, almost all of these San Diego Harvey Milk tributes were led by me but trust me, I can only come up with these ideas and campaigns … without support, work, volunteers and help of so many people who believed in my efforts, none of these tributes would have been accomplished. So I must pay tribute and sincerely thank: Dr. Delores Jacobs, Robert Gleason, Assemblyperson Todd Gloria and his staff, the late Ben F. Dillingham III, the LGBT Center staff, the Human Relations Commission, former LGBT Weekly, Rage Magazine, San Diego Community News Network, the International Imperial Courts, Stuart Milk, Allan Spyere, Imperial Court de San Diego, “Big Mike” Phillips, Michael Zarbo, Shermam Mendoza, Caliph, Michael Weiss, Chris Shaw, Nick and Ryan, and Rich’s San Diego, who all supported these Harvey Milk tributes.
— Nicole Murray Ramirez has been writing a column since 1973. He has been a Latino/gay activist for almost half a century and has advised and served the last seven mayors of San Diego. Named the “Honorary Mayor of Hillcrest” by a city proclamation, he has received many media awards including from the prestigious San Diego Press Club. Reach Nicole at Hillcrestqueen5@gmail.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions written in this column are the author’s own and by no means reflect or represent the opinions of the staff and/or publisher of Gay San Diego and/or its parent company, San Diego Community News Network (SDCNN). The newspaper and its staff should be held harmless of liability or damages.