40 Years After His Death, SFO Terminal To Be Named After Harvey Milk

The 2013 proposal to name the entire airport after the late supervisor was met with opposition, but a compromise is underway.

A Budget and Finance Subcommittee seems the least likely setting to gather local politicians for emotional and noteworthy public comment — except this Thursday, when the legacy of Harvey Milk warranted it.

The now-impending christening of San Francisco International Airport Terminal 1 in the honor of the first openly gay supervisor attracted such a scene after the legislation was held up in local government for months. When finally passed, it will have been 40 years since Milk was gunned down along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White in 1978.

The subcommittee approved the legislation, which Supervisor Hillary Ronen brought forward and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy co-sponsored. 

“The timing of naming Terminal 1 after Harvey Milk is powerful and important right now,” Ronen tells SF Weekly. “The amount of violence and harassment against this [queer] community is outrageous and increasing.”

In 2013, then-Supervisor David Campos proposed naming the entire airport after Milk, which prompted both an outpouring of support but also near-daily threats from Bay Area residents and Americans across the country.

On Thursday, minutes before the subcommittee approved legislation Campos was the impetus for, he spoke from the other side of the chamber.

“This has been quite a journey for me,” Campos told the subcommittee. “One of the things that made Harvey Milk unique was the fact that he challenged the status quo and many of the people who were challenged in that status quo when he was here are still around.”

An airport renaming committee was formed and eventually found that naming Terminal 1, which is already undergoing a $2.4 billion renovation. The Budget Analyst report estimates the name change will cost $357,000, which can be incorporated into the renovation budget.

In September, the Airport Commission unanimously adopted a resolution to oppose the naming, saying that Milk had little to do with the airport and wasn’t in office very long. This concerned Ronen, who added an amendment Thursday to have the Arts Commission bring oversight to how the signage and educational opportunity is implemented.

Public commenters were all in support, only questioning why it took so long to lift the name of someone who embodies San Francisco while sounding the alarm on complacency in the LGBTQ community. As Ronen and Campos pointed out, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 2017 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ Americans.

“I want the city to move from tolerance to acceptance,” said Nick Large, a University of San Francisco Student, to the committee. “That power, that beacon has something that’s immeasurable.”

Former state senator and mayoral candidate Mark Leno, District 8 supervisor candidate Rafael Mandelman, City College of San Francisco Trustee Tom Temprano, and draq queen and community activist Honey Mahogany also spoke at the subcommittee.

“This is such an overdue moment,” Mandelman said. “Symbolism matters, especially today.”

Before voting, Supervisor Catherine Stefani told the audience how much their words inspired her and how Milk meant a lot to her gay sister, especially while growing up in the Central Valley with a Catholic family.

“I don’t think that you’re going to find someone, including the mayors of the city, that had a greater impact not only on San Francisco but the country and the world,” Campos said. “Harvey has meant a great deal not just to the LGBTQ community but to any community that is struggling and fighting for the quality of freedom anywhere in the world.”

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote for the naming on April 3, which would give the airport director until Dec. 1 to show how they plan to integrate the name.

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