Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Creates Day Honoring Harvey Milk

From today's Associated Press comes news that Slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk will get a special day of recognition in California, making him only the second person in state history — in addition to conservationist John Muir — to gain such a designation.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signing of the bill establishing "Harvey Milk Day" each May 22, Milk's birthday, was announced Monday.

The Republican governor vetoed similar legislation a year ago. In the interim, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August and was the subject of a movie for which Sean Penn won the Academy Award for best actor.

Penn spoke out in favor of the bill last spring, saying he didn't want to insult Schwarzenegger's intelligence by assuming the governor would again oppose creating Harvey Milk Day.

"He has become much more of a symbol of the gay community than he was a year ago because of those things," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. "That made the difference from last year: he's really come to symbolize the gay community in California."

In his veto message a year ago, the Republican governor said Milk should be honored locally by those who were most impacted by his contributions. He did not write a signing message this year saying why he flip-flopped.

"Harvey Milk Day" will not be a formal state holiday, so government employees will not be given the day off. The bill instead calls for the day to be observed by public schools as a day of special significance. Teachers will be encouraged to conduct exercises recalling Milk's life and contributions to the state.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who wrote the bill, said Milk was a human rights leader in the same way Cesar Chavez championed Hispanic farmworkers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sought equal treatment for blacks.

"Harvey's work was not only about the respect and dignity and validation of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, but for all human life. That's why I think he ranks among the other world-renown human rights leaders," he said.

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