Penn in SF to announce Harvey Milk Day bill

March 3, 2009 5:39:56 PM PST
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Star power is behind the latest move to turn the birthday of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk into a state holiday.

Milk was elected as a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977, becoming the first openly gay official in California and one of few nationwide. He was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone, but his legacy lives on and supporters say it was not just about gay rights.

"He fought for working men and women, he joined forces and made alliances with labor, he fought for the neighborhoods," state Senator Mark Leno said.

Leno has authored a bill to make Milk's birthday, May 22nd, a state holiday. The governor vetoed a similar measure just five months ago.

A bust of Milk has a prominent place at San Francisco's City Hall; the governor says local tributes, even a local holiday are appropriate, but not a statewide designation.

But that was before Sean Penn stepped into the role of a lifetime. Penn won this year's Academy Award for his portrayal of Milk and he is now lending star power to push for state recognition.

"I trust that governor is an increasingly reasonable man and that he understands that passing on prejudices on this issue and others is poisonous to future generations," Penn said.

The proposed holiday would not give state workers a paid day off, but two protestors, opposed to gay rights, say there should not be a celebration.

"To impose a state holiday in support of a moral wrong is totally inappropriate for our state," gay rights opponent Don Grundmann said.

Adding holidays that honor individuals like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez is politically charged, according to University of San Francsico historian Patrick Hatcher.

"Politics is usually because a large group of people feel they haven't gotten someone from their group recognized and who still have a cause," hatcher said.

He believes the buzz surrounding the Oscar and nationwide interest may lead to the governor's change of heart.

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