In celebrating the new Harvey Milk postage stamp, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first lesbian in the Senate, mocked parents who had a problem with Michael Sam’s public display of affection after being the first openly gay man drafted to play professional football.
“Last month, an openly gay man was drafted into the National Football League, and celebrated by embracing his boyfriend on national television. Sure, we heard from the peanut gallery, ‘How am I supposed to explain this to my 9-year-old.’ But we live in a country where most nine-year-olds could probably explain that kiss to their parents without batting an eye. They understand what love is. They understand what fairness is.”
The new postage stamp honoring Milk, former San Francisco supervisor and gay rights icon, was unveiled at a White House-sponsored ceremony Thursday that included several White House officials, Democratic members of Congress and gay rights activists. It took place in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and championed gay issues before he was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1978 by a disgruntled former supervisor Don White. The stamp unveiling occurred on what would have been Milk’s 84th birthday.
“I think he would have liked being on a stamp because he knew that the best way to change hearts and minds was for people to get to know us,” White House advisor Gautam Raghavan said. “Today we install Harvey Milk into the tiny corner of an envelope where giants of history preside.”
The event took a strongly political tone, as the LGBT community has been a strong source of fundraising for Democrats, and could be highly important in a challenging midterm election year.
“Much like MLK, Martin Luther King, Uncle Harvey had a dream for which he knew he would not physically get to see become real,” Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, told the audience.
He then went on to praise President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“You will never hear Leader Pelosi talk about tolerance,” Milke said. “She talks about celebration, inclusion, and the respect that we have for each other. She does not simply want Americans citizens to be tolerated. She wants us all to be included. And the unparalleled embraced that we have gotten from President Obama and this administration, unparalleled support, whose entire administration has set new heights fierce advocacy on LGBT inclusiveness, human rights both here and abroad.”
Neither Obama – traveling to New York and Chicago Thursday, nor Vice President Joe Biden – in Cyprus – attended the event.
But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was there to remind the constituency of how the Obama administration has fought for Milk’s legacy, even dusting off the old campaign slogan.
“I get to work for a president who is identified with two words, hope and change, but it’s hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk, the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official,” Power said.
She went on to talk about the international challenges for gays in Africa.
“Hope is about envisioning where leaders do not target their most vulnerable citizens with laws that criminalize their existence, which is true now in 76 countries around the world, including Nigeria and Uganda where legislation further targeting LGBT individuals was signed into law earlier this year,” Power said. “Change is about standing up to them when they do. And under President Obama, we have.”
Pelosi, who represents the San Francisco area where Milk became famous, backed up the comments about the administration.
“It would never have happened without President Barack Obama,” Pelosi said of lifting the ban on gays in the military. “He provided the leadership across the board. When you say unparalleled in LGBT rights, if it weren’t for the president’s leadership, and the views expressed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it would have been very hard to get the 60 votes in the Senate.”