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The California Museum and the Harvey B. Milk Foundation came together to host "Harvey Milk - A Celebration!" Wednesday night. The event was an early celebration for California's inaugural Harvey Milk Day, May 22.
More than 500 people gathered at the museum at 7 p.m. for hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, music and special speakers including Milk's nephew and foundation founder, Stuart Milk. Two hundred of the guests attended a VIP reception and a private tribute in the museum's auditorium prior to the public celebration.
"We have, in California, amazing elected officials who clearly stand on the shoulders of Harvey, who follow his legacy and his dream for a new tomorrow," Milk said. "Many of them are with us here tonight."
Celebrity guests included Bruce Cohen, Daniela Sea, Chad Allen, Jeremy Glazer and Christine O'Leary. Political guests included Speaker of the Assembly John Perez; Assemblyman Tom Ammiano; Senator Christine Kehoe; Senator Mark Leno; City Commissioner of San Diego Nicole Murray-Ramirez; Milk's campaign manager Anne Kronenberg and former Assemblyman and Chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Legislative Caucus John Laird.
The VIP reception was held from 5:30-7 p.m. A "Tribute to Harvey" was held in the museum's auditorium for VIP guests from 6:30-8 p.m. Milk, Kronenberg and Perez spoke during the tribute. A portion of Patricia Loughrey's play, "Dear Harvey," was featured. It was originally presented at the end of last year by the San Diego State University's (SDSU) School of Theatre. The play is composed of first-person stories about Harvey from people he knew.
Proceeds from ticket sales went to the foundation.
The nonprofit foundation was established this year by Stuart Milk. According to the foundation's website, it "envisions governments that celebrate the rich and universally empowering diversity of humanity, where all individuals - gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, the young, the disabled - all who had been excluded can fully participate in all societal rights without exception."
Harvey Milk was an LGBT activist and the first openly gay person elected to public office in a major U.S. city. He won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Harvey and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White the morning of Nov. 27, 1978.
During the VIP "Tribute to Harvey," Stuart Milk explained that the idea of the foundation came to him last year. Harvey was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom award posthumously, and Stuart Milk was one of three people accepting the award on behalf of someone. Those three and the 13 award recipients were gathered in the Map Room of The White House, alone with the President and First Lady for 90 minutes.
"Some of the inductees were talking with me about Harvey and his message," Stuart Milk said. "Desmond Tutu looked me dead in the eye and said, 'Stuart, what are you doing to continue your uncle's legacy?' And I said that for 10 years I've been traveling and speaking at no charge to support LGBT organizations and speak at memorials.
"I've been working hard to represent the family. And he and Dr. Joseph Lowery, they all almost in unison said, 'You must do more.' Every civil rights movement has unfortunately had a martyr or someone who has deceased who moved the movement forward, a person whose shoulders people can stand on based on their story and continue their legacy. And they challenged me to move it forward."
Harvey Milk was inducted into the California Museum's Hall of Fame in 2009. His image is among other inductees in the museum's entryway, and there is an exhibit of him further inside the museum.
"What I would like to see is the Harvey B. Milk Foundation get off the ground to raise a lot of money to spread the work and message of Harvey," Kronenberg said. "He was such a visionary. (The message is) not just to us who already know, but across the country and across the world that being gay is OK. Equality is what it's all about. And pushing the message that we are all the same."
"People can go on the foundation's website and explore some of the links. There's a lot of international links, and you can see how Harvey's story has resonated," Stuart Milk said. "Look at the exhibit and see the continuation of Harvey's legacy. A lot of the exhibit is about Harvey's message carrying on and not just about his message of that time, which took incredible strength in the 1960s. It took tremendous strength to not only be out, but to be so openly out. We really don't have that many people like that today."
Stuart Milk said it was difficult to come out as a gay person himself, even with Harvey in his life.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 572 into law on Oct. 11, recognizing every May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. Public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to conduct commemorative exercises on that day.
"We're expecting a couple hundred people, and Stuart is our keynote speaker," said T.J. Istvan, a San Francisco Diversity Brunch organizer. "Kronenberg will be there, Dan Nicoletta and Nicole Murray-Ramirez will be there. It's going to be a pretty historic day, and I'm very excited."
"I travel the world talking about Harvey in places like Istanbul, Mumbai and Damascus, where (the LGBT) community is being murdered," Stuart Milk said, "and where our very existence is illegal. Harvey's message not only reaches those individuals being persecuted, but it reaches lawmakers and legislatures. When 75 percent of the LGBT population lives in a community run by a governmental structure that basically says they have no rights, we must continue to do something. President Obama said it best: 'He only spoke for a short time before he was silenced with hate.' But his message resonates three decades longer with an authenticity and a truth far beyond the shores of the U.S."
The California Museum is located at 1020 O St. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Adult tickets cost $8.50. Seniors 65 and over get in for $7. Youths ages 6 to 13 get in for $6. Children 5 and younger visit for free.
1) Harvey Milk represented in the California Museum's entryway Hall of Fame.
2) Stuart Milk speaking during the VIP "Tribute to Harvey."
3) Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus performed during the reception.
4) Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus performing during the reception among guests.
5) The Harvey Milk exhibit in the California Museum's Hall of Fame.
Agnus-Dei Farrant is an intern for The Sacramento Press.