15 April 2014

Harvey Milk Postage Stamp

Getting one's image on a postage stamp is, I reckon, a bit like the Nobel Prize.  Whenever I hear about someone being honored with one or the other, I have one of two responses:  "What were they thinking?" or
"What took them so long?"

I had the first response when Obama got the Peace Prize.  (For that matter, I was even more perplexed when Henry Kissinger got it.)  But I had the latter reaction today, upon finding out that the US Postal Service is issuing a stamp with Harvey Milk's image. 

As many of you know, he was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.  His career was tragically cut short--along with that of his boss, then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone-- by Dan White, who had recently resigned from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, on which Milk served at the time White shot him.

A number of motives have been ascribed to White.  The one with the most empirical evidence is that White, a former San Francisco police officer and firefighter and a Vietnam veteran, represented a conservative district on the southeastern edge of the city.  Residents there were said to be resentful toward the city's growing homosexual community whom, of course, they--and probably White himself--saw embodied in Milk.

Another plausible explanation--implied in the 2008 film in which Sean Penn played Milk--is that White was a closeted homosexual who was jealous and resentful of the accomplishments and accolades that came Milk's way.

Whatever the explanation, I'm glad to see Harvey Milk so honored.  Even though his political career spanned only a few years, his work gained a lot of momentum.  I wish that he could have lived to see--and perhaps partake--of some of the fruit it is just starting to bear.