LGBTQ community members and allies celebrated California’s first annual Harvey Milk Day with a neighborhood picnic at Alameda Park on Saturday.
The day of recognition honored the life of the first openly gay man to hold public office in the United States and was commemorated by rallies and events throughout California, the first state to declare a holiday for Milk. This weekend’s picnic, sponsored by the Pacific Pride Foundation and co-hosted by city councilman Das Williams, featured public addresses by Santa Barbara officials that highlighted their support for the queer community.
In true Milk style, local officials addressed the crowd in front of a rainbow flag, using a megaphone and standing atop a soapbox.
“I was in San Francisco first hand to see the bravery of Harvey Milk,” Janet Wolf, Santa Barbara’s second district supervisor, said. “He touched me deeply when he fought against the Briggs Initiative. And it’s from him, from Harvey Milk, from that passion, that I decided to run for the Board of Supervisors.”
David Selberg, executive director for the Pacific Pride Foundation, said cooperation from community representatives was instrumental to the success of the event.
“What was really moving to me was the complete support we got from the county board of supervisors, current and former mayors and local officials,” Selberg said. “They helped in the production, came out and had proclamations. We really couldn’t have done it without them.”
Despite experiencing multiple instances of open discrimination, Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. During his career in city politics, he fought to end intolerance against gays and lesbians, and forged a political coalition of gay rights groups, labor unions and small-business owners.
Milk was murdered in 1978 by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. His death drew such attention that he has since become a national political icon and inspiration for the queer community and their allies.
UCSB students in attendance at Saturday’s celebration said Milk’s accomplishments are deserving of wide recognition.
“Harvey Milk did a lot for the queer community and it’s largely ignored,” Marsha Donat, fourth-year sociology major, said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge his achievements and celebrate his success.”
According to Anna Sorensen, a graduate student in the department of sociology, Milk’s unique legacy has helped unite the queer community.
“I think it’s very important for people to have a hero of our own to look up to,” Sorensen said. “[Milk is] someone that we can celebrate, someone that we can emulate and someone that we can look up to.”