Wednesday, August 12, 2009

President Obama to Award Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk

Today President Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest honor for a civilian, to 16 people. One of those is Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official from a major city (San Francisco). Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality. Milk, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor.

His award will be accepted by his nephew, Stuart Milk. Acording to this article by Chuck Wolfe from The Huffington Post, "When Stuart Milk stands before the president and the country to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of his late, slain uncle Harvey Milk, it'll be a moment of incredible pride for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Yet this is a moment that will transcend identity politics because Harvey Milk represents the aspirations of all Americans. More than 200 years ago Washington, Jefferson and Adams fought to create a more perfect union. They probably had no idea that their vision would be embodied in the late 20th century by a gay, Jewish camera shop owner in San Francisco.

Milk's murder could have had a chilling effect on the then burgeoning gay rights movement. Many forces were already actively at work to put gays back in the closest including crusader Anita Bryant. Instead it's a testament to American idealism that in the 30 years since Milk's assassination, we have continued to appreciate and honor his political work.

In fact, there are now more than 440 openly LGBT public officials in our country who serve in states as diverse as Alabama, Idaho and Kentucky. That's real progress, but even that number seems small when you realize there are more than one half million elected offices in the U.S.

When Stuart Milk accepts the Medal of Freedom this Wednesday we will beam with pride, but it will be tinged with the thought of what might have been -- for Harvey, for our movement, and for our country. And then we will remember what he taught us about perseverance, pride and telling the truth about who we really are, and we will press on."

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