John M. Becker

Harvey Milk Airport & LGBT Superlatives

Filed By John M. Becker | January 16, 2013 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Harvey Milk, LGBTQ Equality, LGBTQ Heroes, LGBTQ History, San Francisco, superlatives

News broke this morning that David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, bigstock-Departure-Board-15190349.jpgintends to introduce legislation that would rename the city's airport in honor of slain gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk. If five of Campos' colleagues vote to approve the amendment - which seems likely, given the fact that he already has four co-sponsors - it will go before the voters of San Francisco in November. If voters choose to pass it, San Francisco would become the first city in the world with an airport honoring an openly gay person.

The Washington Post reports that flights arriving at and departing from San Francisco's airport serve dozens of countries where homosexuality is illegal. Wouldn't it send an awesome message to the world about the inclusion of LGBT people and our rightful place in society if those flights went through Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport instead? Milk's nephew Stuart thinks so. He told the San Francisco Chronicle:

"When you think of the 9 million international visitors, coming from many of the 77 countries where it's still illegal to be LGBT - people forget that there are still 77 countries where it's criminal to be who you are. To be in Dubai, and see on the board a flight that ends at Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport, or to be a young Pakistani, in a country where it is illegal to be gay, look up and see the name of a gay icon and feel, 'I am not alone' - it resonates back to my uncle and the calls he got from places like Altoona, Pa., when he was elected."

Milk continued, saying that the airport

" ... is a global entry point to North America, and with this we are saying, 'We are including everyone.' ... It shows what a global community we have become and how we are teaching equality."

According to the Post, such an honor is typically reserved for former presidents (and cowboys, apparently). I don't know about any of you, but I'm disgusted every time I fly to or through the DC airport named for Ronald Reagan, the president who ignored HIV and AIDS for so many years (and, in my view, has the blood of thousands of gay men on his hands as a result). Renaming SFO for Harvey Milk, in addition to recognizing a civil-rights hero and sending an important pro-equality message, would serve as a wonderful counterbalance: This time, the bigots would be squirming instead.

While reaction to the proposed renaming among the LGBT community has been quite positive, some have expressed exasperation about what they view as an endless succession of LGBT superlatives. "I think we need to move away from the 'first-ever' stuff because it's just getting funny at this point," a friend wrote this morning in response to my posting the news on Facebook. "'First city in the world with an airport honoring a gay person?' Soon it will be 'first city block east of Main with only east-bound freeway access to display a sign honoring a gay man' or something similar." She added, "Let's continue to recognize the significance of queer-friendly measures, but let's move past the need to label everything as 'first ever.'"

For my part, I disagree with my friend's assertion that such facts are trivial, insignificant, or unnecessary. While I sincerely hope that one day the queer community is so totally embraced and celebrated by society that these kinds of developments will be viewed as routine instead of hailed as milestones - and more than hope, I work every day to help make that kind of visibility and inclusiveness possible - we're not there yet. (We don't even have federal employment protections or marriage equality, for goodness' sake!) I'm all about moving our country and our culture forward, but pretending we're further along in the push for equality than we actually are encourages undue complacency that we cannot afford as long as we're still second-class citizens. In fact, I believe such complacency ends up prolonging the change we all seek.

What do you think? Are the "first-ever" superlatives important or overkill? Sound off in the comments below.

(Airport graphic via Bigstock)

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