Home » Columns, Island Talkback

Island Talkback: Alameda celebrates Harvey Milk

Submitted by on 1, May 21, 2010 – 5:00 am2 Comments

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Sean Cahill

On October 11, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially instituted May 22 as “Harvey Milk Day” in the State of California. Only one other individual, the legendary John Muir, holds this honor.

Harvey Milk was born in New York on May 22, 1930 to Minerva Karns and William Milk. He moved to San Francisco in 1972 and five years later, in 1977, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first time in the history of the United States that an openly gay man was elected to a prominent political office.

During his term on the Board of Supervisors, Milk sponsored and successfully passed a gay rights ordinance for the City of San Francisco. He was also instrumental in defeating California Proposition 6 – commonly known as the Briggs Initiative – which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California public schools.

Milk’s contributions to gay culture are far-reaching, and many of the traditions shared in the gay community today reflect his efforts. While his passion for justice saw great success, it also caused much controversy. And like many who stand at the boundary of difference, he knew the potential for harm to his person. As feared, on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk was assassinated. In 2009, President Barack Obama honored Harvey Milk posthumously, with the Medal of Freedom.

Because of Harvey Milk’s contributions, as with the lives of the many before him who have made significant contributions to American heritage, we make time to commemorate and honor his life on May 22. In recognition of this day, Alameda City Councilman Frank Matarrese, the College of Alameda, the College of Alameda Gay Straight Alliance, Alameda Social Services Human Relations Board, Alameda Multicultural Center and the Community Alliance Resource for Education are co-sponsoring the first annual “Alameda Harvey Milk Day” from 10 a.m. to noon May 22 in the Student Union at the College of Alameda, 555 Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway.

Some of the program highlights include performance by the renowned Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus; invocation and benediction by the Rev. Laura Rose, senior pastor of the First Congregational Church of Alameda United Church of Christ; and an interview with the Rabbi Allen Bennett of Temple Israel on his reflections as Harvey Milk’s rabbi and the experience of being the country’s first openly gay rabbi.

The Hon. Beverly Johnson, Mayor, Alameda and Alameda Unified School District Superintendent Kirsten Vital will present proclamations made for this day. The keynote address will be from one of the youngest openly gay elected officials in the U.S., Campbell Mayor Evan Low.

For additional information, please contact me at 205-3134. Or visit us at www.alamedaharveymilkday.org or on Facebook, at AlamedaHarveyMilkDay.


  • Juana says:

    Good Morning, Sean

    It does my heart good to see that tomorrow will be Harvey Milk Day to honor and commemorate this great man’s life as our nation’s first openly gay elected official. He was a highly intelligent, courageous and compassionate person.

    You might like to know that the interview I did with him almost two months to the day he was shot and killed can be seen on You Tube . . .


    As far as I know, this is the only interview with him that remains.

    In fact, because of its historical nature, both a transcript of this interview and a DVD is being included in Vince Emery’s new book on the life and times of Harvey Milk which will be published later this year. Refer to: emerybooks.com

    Harvey came on my show, “News Talk”, as a personal favor when one of my guests canceled at the last minute. Thank goodness for that cancellation. “News Talk”, was a daily, live, news and interview show I hosted and produced from 1977 to 1982 in San Francisco on KBHK-TV, Ch. 44.

    I lived in Alameda at that time and for a subsequent 30 years. I feel so grateful to have had our beautiful island community in which to have lived all those years and have raised my two daughters, Sara and Marie McAlister. Since I now live in L.A., it was Sara who saw your article and e-mailed it to me this morning.

    She is now Sara Sanchez, married and happily raising her son, Diego, in Alameda.

    It was last year when I was prepping my home for sale, that I came across the September 26th 1978 interview with Harvey. This interview is of timely significance given the recent passage of Prop. 8 and both Dustin Lance Black’s and Sean Penn’s Oscar wins for their film, “Milk”.

    This whole “News Talk” show was devoted to why Californians should vote “No” on Prop. 6, the Briggs Initiative.

    If passed, the Briggs initiative would have allowed School Boards across the state to fire any “openly gay” teacher as well as anyone who “advocated” the gay lifestyle even though they themselves were not gay. It’s great to see and hear Harvey talk about politics in general and human rights in particular, something he was so well versed in and passionate about.

    Harvey was an intelligent and articulate man. He had a great sense of humor, laughed readily and was a kind, warm and caring person. Notice how he places his hand over mine at the end of the show.

    In the 5 yrs. I did “News Talk”, he was the only one of my guests to reciprocate my touch . . . and I touched many a guest’ arm just like this at the end of my show.

    You might also be interested to view three other subject related tapes that I’ve also put up on You Tube.

    One is with the spokeswoman, Lee Lee, from the Pro Briggs Initiative Committee. It is well worth the time to view.

    Another is of the day Mayor Moscone and Harvey were shot on Nov. 27th 1978.

    I had literally just begun my show on children’s Xmas toys when I was handed an AP wire saying Mayor Moscone had been shot. Nothing yet about Harvey.

    Mid-show, I was given another wire saying both Moscone and Harvey had been shot and killed.

    And, at the end of the show, yet another wire came saying that then Supervisor Dianne Feinstein had announced there was an all points bulletin out for Dan White.

    That was the hardest show I ever had to do in my entire five years of doing “News Talk”.

    And the third interview is with Harry Britt, who was appointed by then Mayor Dianne Feinstein, to fill Harvey’s seat.

    I find the four Harvey Milk related tapes culturally significant given that here we are 30 yrs. later and as Harvey himself says during our interview re: the Briggs Initiative:

    “In essence what has happened (is that) the progressive, liberal movement of this nation, the human rights movement, has gone 6 steps forward and 1 step backwards.”

    I think Harvey would have been proud to know how far the human rights movement has come since 1978.He most probably would have seen Prop. 8 as just one more temporary “step backwards ” .

    And, I imagine Harvey would be both honored and amused to know of his special day. He had a great sense of humor. In fact, during our interview, he joked about then deposed President Richard Nixon no longer being in the White House but that he, an openly gay man, sat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

    “The times they are a changing” as we continue our journey towards equal rights for all Americans.

  • Sean Cahill says:

    Hi Juana,

    Thank you for this incredible offering. Your generosity to this community and my article is very kind.

    Alameda has been doing quite a bit of LGBTQ cultural diversity work these days, much of which started with the adoption of curriculum within the K – 5 anthology, that included literature for our elementary schools, honoring the LGBT community. It was not with out controversy or the usual rancor from the evangelical, fundamentalist, right but what came from the work was a recognition of an historical absence for my LGBTQ community and the eventual adoption, by the Board of Education, of literature that will be taught on everything from gender non-conforming issues to “The Harvey Milk Story” by author Karl Krakow. In the media, it came to be know as Lesson 9.

    It was fitting that the first annual “Harvey Milk Day” would be celebrated on the heals of this multi year journey, and that his story, in particular, would become institutionalized in our process.

    Although I personally never had the fortune to have met Harvey, many of my community members, people like yourself, knew him well and have shared their stories, in heartfelt personal ways, that bear likeness to your pointing out his reciprocating touch during your interview. I feel as though, through osmosis of these stories, I have be afforded the next closest thing. Thank you for strengthening that thread.

    My family will long live proud in Alameda. I hope someday to have the good fortune to meet your family that still lives here. Perhaps next year you will find your way home and celebrate with us, the 2nd annual “Harvey Milk Day”.

    Sean Cahill

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.