If six of the 11 San Francisco Board of Supervisors sign off on a ballot initiative to rename the city's current airport to the Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport, they could be making history.
"We have not found any legislation nor was there ever an actual naming of an openly gay official for an airport," said Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk's nephew. "Harvey never had a citywide election because he was elected to a supervisory district, so this has a real synergy to it that the people of San Francisco are going to be voting for Harvey Milk. I think he would have loved that."
Harvey Milk was the city's first openly gay elected politician and a champion of gay and civil rights in the 1960s and '70s. After serving for a mere 11 months as District 5 supervisor, former supervisor Dan White shot and killed Milk and Mayor George Mascone on May 27, 1978, inside San Francisco City Hall.
As of Jan. 16, District 9 supervisor David Campos had the support of five from the Board of Supervisors, including his own. Campos needs the support of one more to qualify for the majority six signatures needed to push the initiative onto the November ballot. The legislation would be voted on as a charter amendment since the San Francisco Airport, more commonly known as SFO, is referenced within the charter of the city.
Campos said in the U.S. alone there are over eight airports named after individuals, and many more throughout the world. But when he realized none of those airports featured the name of an LGBT person, he decided to act. On Jan. 15, he formally introduced the initiative to the board, and the response was "very well received." If the initiative passes in November, it will not only be a professional success but a personal victory for Campos.
"I believe as an openly gay man that we, as a community, have made contributions to a community like anyone else--that someone, somewhere name an airport after someone in this community," said Campos. "It seemed to me that San Francisco would be the right place. If not in San Francisco, then where?"
But the process requires more than just the enthusiastic support of the Milk family and Campos.
The airport, for one. SFO acting airport spokesman Doug Yakel said, "From the perspective of the airport, we don't have an opinion on the matter."
Yakel told ABC News during an SFO airport commission meeting on Jan. 15, commissioner members said that it was "an issue that requires careful consideration; it requires a thorough understanding of the financial impact, meaning, What does it cost to rename an airport? And there are many individuals who have made a contribution to San Francisco from a political perspective that warrants consideration."
Campos said this initiative is a process and would not be "something that would happen automatically."
"Nothing has been easy in the fight for LGBT rights or in Harvey's life," said Campos. "I'm hoping to have a dialogue and I think there's some resistance from people who don't want to see change. We just hope to engage in a dialogue with people, and so I'm optimistic."
In the past year, San Francisco International has seen about 43 million passengers. Yakel said that number puts SFO "among the top 10 airports in the U.S. by passenger traffic."
"It's a great opportunity to affect over 40 million people a year, even if it's just a pause for a moment," said Milk.
Although the initiative is in its early stages, the Harvey Milk Foundation is "thrilled and excited." Milk co-founded the foundation with Anne Kronenberg, Harvey's campaign manager, in 2009 after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C., on his uncle's behalf. The nonprofit organization works globally to help not just those within the LGBT community but any minority group struggling for equality, including the disabled and the elderly.
"We know that society change doesn't always catch up with legal change. So we may have a law in New York, for example, that allows gay marriage, but kids are still being picked on in Long Island," said Milk. "It's an abstract change for a lot of these young people, but going through an airport and having something at the level of a JFK and it being Harvey Milk International--that helps move societal change."
Echoing Stuart Milk, Campos said, "We, in San Francisco, haven't seen the Harvey Milk name on the ballot since he was elected supervisor. There's a very special significance to it."