Eighty years ago today, on May 22, 1930, Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, New York, on Long Island. As the first openly gay elected official in California, Milk became an icon of San Francisco’s Castro District during the 1970s and, more generally, gay activism as a rising phenomenon. As Sean Penn showed the world not already privy to Milk’s fiery rhetoric and inspiring story, Milk became something of a martyr when he was assassinated in 1978, though his legacy needed no Hollywood-style bolstering.
Saturday in Manhattan, a march celebrated the man’s birthday, as a few hundred or so supporters paraded from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on 13th Street all the way to City Hall, with stops at the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital, Washington Square Park, and the city Marriage Bureau along the way. The Voice‘s own Steven Thrasher was on hand and sent some dispatches — along with photos and video — from the walk.
Speakers included Melinda Goodman, Harvey Milk’s cousin, and Carlos “Charlie” Ramos (left), who is running to defeat State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., the notoriously anti-gay minister-senator from the South Bronx. Ramos said he decided to run after an HIV-positive man said he’d give him his last $20 to run in a primary against Diaz.
Thrasher estimates that the march started with about 100 people and grew as large as 200, but noted the unique integration of the marchers with the public. Instead of being cordoned off to a street or a part of town, with people watching who chose to be watching, the march utilized sidewalks and confronted the general public in a highly engaging way.
“The people were not, like at the pride parade, preaching to the choir,” Thrasher said. “They were interacting with a lot of people — some who cheered and joined, and many who just looked stunned.” At one point, marchers tried to recruit hordes of teenagers emerging from Hollister and Armani Exchange. “The mostly tourist teens and their parents looked stunned to be handed a flyer explaining who Harvey Milk was and why he was important, but there seemed to be something to it. It was effective in a totally different way from big parades.”
At Washington Square, Sue Fulton, a former Army captain in the first class at West Point to graduate women and a co-founder of Knights Out (with Dan Choi), spoke. Video below:
Even Mayor Boomberg drew some ire, as Cathy Marino-Thomas noted the problem with City Hall allowing civil ceremonies for gays without changing any laws, calling it “hearts and flowers bullshit.”
More photos from the event: