Harvey Milk Airport and LGBT Superlatives

san_francisco_internationalNews broke yesterday that David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, intends to introduce legislation that would rename the city’s airport in honor of slain gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk. If five of Campos’s colleagues vote to approve the amendment — which seems likely, given the fact that he already has four co-sponsors — it will go before the voters of San Francisco in November. Should voters choose to pass it, San Francisco would become the first city in the world with an airport honoring an openly gay person.

The Washington Post reports that flights arriving at and departing from San Francisco’s airport serve dozens of countries where homosexuality is illegal. Wouldn’t it send an awesome message to the world about the inclusion of LGBT people and our rightful place in society if those flights went through Harvey Milk-San Francisco International Airport instead? Milk’s nephew Stuart thinks so. He told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“When you think of the 9 million international visitors, coming from many of the 77 countries where it’s still illegal to be LGBT – people forget that there are still 77 countries where it’s criminal to be who you are. To be in Dubai, and see on the board a flight that ends at Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport, or to be a young Pakistani, in a country where it is illegal to be gay, look up and see the name of a gay icon and feel, ‘I am not alone’ – it resonates back to my uncle and the calls he got from places like Altoona, Pa., when he was elected.”

Milk continued, saying that the airport

“…is a global entry point to North America, and with this we are saying, ‘We are including everyone.’ … It shows what a global community we have become and how we are teaching equality.”

According to the Post, such an honor is typically reserved for former presidents (and cowboys, apparently). I don’t know about any of you, but I’m disgusted every time I fly to or through the DC airport named for Ronald Reagan, the president who ignored HIV and AIDS for so many years (and, in my view, has the blood of thousands of gay men on his hands as a result). Renaming SFO for Harvey Milk, in addition to recognizing a civil rights hero and sending an important pro-equality, would serve as a wonderful counterbalance: this time, the bigots would be squirming instead.

While reaction to the proposed renaming among the LGBT community has been quite positive, some have expressed exasperation about what they view as an endless succession of LGBT superlatives. “I think we need to move away from the ‘first ever’ stuff because it’s just getting funny at this point,” a friend wrote this morning in response to my posting the news on Facebook. “‘First city in the world with an airport honoring a gay person?’ Soon it will be ‘first city block east of Main with only east-bound freeway access to display a sign honoring a gay man’ or something similar.” She added, “Let’s continue to recognize the significance of queer-friendly measures, but let’s move past the need to label everything as ‘first ever.'”

For my part, I disagree with my friend’s assertion that such facts are trivial, insignificant, or unnecessary. While I sincerely hope that one day the queer community is so totally embraced and celebrated by society that these kinds of developments will be viewed as routine instead of hailed as milestones — and more than hope, I work every day to help make that kind of visibility and inclusiveness possible — we’re not there yet. (We don’t even have federal employment protections or marriage equality, for goodness’ sake!) I’m all about moving our country and our culture forward, but pretending we’re further along in the push for equality than we actually are encourages undue complacency that we cannot afford as long as we’re still second-class citizens. In fact, I believe such complacency ends up prolonging the change we all seek.

What do you think? Are the “first-ever” superlatives important, or overkill? Sound off in the comments below.


Originally posted on the Bilerico Project.

John Becker

John Becker is an LGBT activist, writer, and blogger who has played a critical part in a number of high-profile victories, including a successful international media campaign that resulted in Apple dropping a “gay cure” iPhone app, and a sting operation in which Becker went undercover with hidden cameras at the clinic co-owned by Marcus and Michele Bachmann and exposed them for offering fraudulent “ex-gay” therapy. Becker has appeared as a guest on major news and political shows including ABC's World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America; NBC's Today Show; Fox's Alan Colmes Show; MSNBC's Ed Schultz Show and Live with Al Sharpton, and the Associated Press Television Network. He and his work have also been mentioned in notable newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

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2 Responses

  1. I really don’t have much of an opinion about “first-ever” superlatives”. I can’t worry about such unimportant things when bigotry and racism is so alive and well in America.

    But I do think renaming SFO for Harvey Milk is so fucking coooooollll!!!!!

    Also, I fly to D.C. all the time. I was born there and I got to tell you I refuse to call it anything other than National Airport. The Reagan name irritates me no end. I feel the same way about calling the Willis Tower here in Chicago anything but the Sears Tower and I won’t even acknowledge Macy’s after they took over Marshall Fields. Macy’s will never have the class that Marshall Fields had. LOL

  2. Roy Steele says:

    I have mixed emotions about this. While I share your enthusiasm for the positive aspects, we celebrate Harvey’s life, and commemorate him as our gay patron saint, with many memorials. There is a state holiday – Harvey Milk Day, and Harvey Milk Plaza (subway station), and there is the Harvey Milk Arts and Recreation Center, and Harvey Milk School, The Harvey Milk Library public library, The Harvey Milk Institute, Harvey Milk Photo Center, must I go on? It’s a grand gesture, and it will be a ballot measure for city residents to decide. For some reason I always thought the airport would be named for Nancy Pelosi, our member of Congress and the first woman to be Speaker of the House. I could rally ’round that – but I’m not so sure about Harvey. Nancy Pelosi gets the nod in my book.

What do you think?