The country’s first-ever day of recognition for an openly gay person has been signed into law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with other rights and protections for gay and lesbian Californians.

Reversing his veto of a similar measure last year, Schwarzenegger on Oct. 11 signed a bill designating May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. The date coincides with the birthday of the San Francisco supervisor who was the first openly gay man elected to prominent public office in the U.S.

Schwarzenegger spokesperson Aaron McLear said President Obama’s award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Milk earlier this year, and the 2008 Academy Award-winning film, “Milk,” had contributed to the governor’s change of mind.

State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who introduced the measure, observed that the governor had “clearly evolved in his thinking.”

Though Harvey Milk Day won’t be a state holiday, schools will be encouraged to hold lessons “remembering the life of Harvey Milk, recognizing his accomplishments and familiarizing pupils with the contributions he made to this state.”

Other state “days of special significance” commemorate environmentalist John Muir, as well as the California poppy, the state’s teachers, and Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

Elected in 1977, Milk built coalitions with the city’s other minority leaders at the same time he fought for rights and protections for gay and lesbian San Franciscans. “Wake up, wake up, America, no more racism, no more sexism, no more ageism, no more hatred … no more!” he proclaimed in a Gay Freedom Day speech in 1978.

Milk and Mayor George Moscone were killed at city hall later that year by former San Francisco supervisor Dan White, a disgruntled political rival.

“Californians will now learn about Harvey’s amazing contributions to the advancement of civil rights for decades to come. He is a role model to millions, and this legislation will help ensure his legacy lives on forever,” Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California (EQCA), said in a statement. EQCA sponsored the bill.

Schwarzenegger also signed another bill sponsored by EQCA and introduced by Leno, to ensure that same-sex couples who married in California before the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008 will be fully recognized as married spouses in the state, whether they married in California or out of state. The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act also extends all rights, protections and responsibilities of married spouses except the designation of “marriage” to same-sex couples married outside California after Prop. 8 passed.

The governor signed legislation to increase funds for domestic violence programs aimed at the gay and lesbian communities. He vetoed a bill to let transgendered people obtain new birth certificates and another to consider sexual orientation in housing the state’s prisoners, saying these protections are already provided by existing laws and policies.

Last summer Schwarzenegger accepted Milk’s nomination to the California Hall of Fame. Milk will be inducted in December.




Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.