A new postage stamp honoring gay rights activist Harvey Milk was unveiled at the White House on what would have been the icon’s 84th birthday.
Milk, who was elected as a San Francisco supervisor in 1977 and was assassinated less than a year later in front of city hall, is the first openly gay politician to receive the honor of a postage stamp. In 2009, President Obama awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously.
At the ceremony, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that Milk embodied the best of American ideals.
“He was impatient with excuses. He was intolerant of injustice. He demanded dignity for himself and for all Americans,” said Power. “In so doing, he helped to make America more fair, more just, and more equal. In short, Harvey Milk made America more American.”
The “forever” first-class stamp features a black and white photograph of Milk in front of his Castro Street camera store in San Francisco taken 36 years ago.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes San Francisco, reflected on the day Milk was gunned down.
“I thought ,’Is this how this ends?’ It really was a sad sacrifice to pay,” she said. “But today we honor the life and the legacy of a leader who was dedicated to the fundamental American value of equality.”
Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis said that America owed a debt to Harvey Milk for being one of the pioneers pushing for freedom, just as those in the civil rights movement had done years earlier. Lewis said the stamp was a powerful symbol of how far America has come.
“With the stamp, we honor a nation at peace with itself,” he said. “Thank you, Harvey Milk.”
May 22 has been declared “Harvey Milk Day” in the State of California, and there is a foundation in the activist’s name that continues to fight for global gay rights. Stuart Milk compared his uncle to Martin Luther King Jr., and said that even though his uncle did not live to see the progress he fought for occur, he always knew it would.
“He did see this day,” said the younger Milk. “He dreamed it.”