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Deb Price
Deb Price
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Harvey Milk's Campaign Lives on


Harvey Milk loved the spotlight, but his campaign for public office was never merely about personal ambition. Rather, it was about empowering gay men and lesbians to come out of the closet and push for full equality. And it was about inspiring and prodding our heterosexual friends and neighbors and elected officials to join us in that righteous struggle.

Because Milk's campaign was about more than just one man, it didn't end with his 1977 election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And it didn't end with his assassination after just 11 months in office.

Now, three decades later, Harvey Milk's campaign has enlisted an extraordinary ally, President Barack Obama. At a private White House reception immediately before this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, Anne Kronenberg, who was Milk's campaign manager, gave Obama a blue-and-white "Harvey Milk supervisor" campaign button, one of only two she had left.

"The president said, 'I will treasure this always,'" Kronenberg told me.

The gift of the campaign button was a symbolic passing of the torch, the one Obama reached for in choosing Harvey Milk for a Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor.

"His name was Harvey Milk, and he was here to recruit us — all of us — to join a movement and change a nation," Obama eloquently declared at the awards ceremony. "… (I)n the brief time in which he spoke — and ran and led — his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people. He would become, after several attempts, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. And his message of hope — hope unashamed, hope unafraid — could not ever be silenced. It was Harvey who said it best: 'You gotta give 'em hope.'"

Milk's life is the subject of both an Oscar-winning movie and an Oscar-winning documentary, plus a heart-wrenching biography.

Fittingly, though, the medal bestowed upon the slain gay- rights giant wasn't accepted by an actor or filmmaker. Obama handed it to Milk's gay nephew, Stuart Milk.

At the reception, Obama had asked what Harvey Milk would have thought of winning such a high honor. "I told him that Harvey could actually have dreamed of today," said Stuart Milk, whose dark eyes and broad smile give him a charming resemblance to his path- breaking uncle. "Until I was 17, I had Harvey in my life. I had him telling me about the day when people who feel differently…would be recognized and celebrated."

In awarding Medals of Freedom, Obama honored 16 "agents of change," including tennis great Billie Jean King, whom he hailed for shattering barriers based on gender and sexual orientation. Never before has any president paid such tribute to openly gay Americans. Milk and King were in a beautiful mix of change-makers, including the profoundly disabled theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking; Sandra Day O'Connor, the nation's first female Supreme Court justice, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid activist dubbed "South Africa's moral conscience."

Obama, the first president to include gay-rights leaders among those literally put on stage as role models, said of all 16 medal winners, "Let them stand as an example…of what we can achieve in our own lives. Let them stand as an example of the difference we can make in the lives of others. Let each of their stories stand as an example of a life well lived."

A celebration hosted afterward by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps elect openly gay officials, was attended by some of the nation's 450 gay and lesbian elected officials and their growing number of counterparts in the Obama administration. Milk's legacy lives on in them.

And Milk's campaign lives on in the hearts of everyone pushing for equality.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Thank you for that morning cup of inspiration, Deb.

The winds of change are blowing, I feel Harvey's spirit urging us on, smiling down at us, as we work together to carry on the legacy he left behind. I have faith in Obama and I have faith in our generation. We will see the day where anti-gay prejudice will be socially unacceptable and sexual orientation discrimination will be legally impermissible.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Molly McKay
Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:51 AM
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