Harvey Milk and the Human Rights Campaign

December 14, 2010; Source: Centre Daily Times | In its efforts to win support for gay rights, The Human Rights Campaign hasn’t done such a good job making friends within its own community. In fact the Washington, D.C.-based HRC is so disliked by some activists in San Francisco that they’re trying to stop the group from opening an information center and gift shop at a store that served as the base for the political operations of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office in the United States.

Milk, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was assassinated 32 years ago at City Hall, along with Mayor George Moscone. Since then, Milk’s former camera shop has been a place of honor and one of the city’s gay landmarks. According to the Associated Press, gay activists who dislike HRC because they think the group’s lobbying efforts are ineffective would “rather see a Starbucks” in Milk’s old store than an HRC gift shop. AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones calls HRC’s plans akin to “spitting in the face of Harvey’s memory.” Bill Browning, founder of a gay issues blog, similarly asks, “What’s next? Removing the Mona Lisa’s face and replacing it with the Wal-Mart smiley face?”

HRC officials say they understand the desire of Milk’s friends to protect his legacy and that they intend to do that. HRC President Joe Solmonese said the new location will sell items featuring Milk’s words and image and that some of the proceeds will support a local elementary school named in his honor and the GLBT Historical Society. That’s not enough to quiet the anger of those, who according to the AP, believe that HRC’s “philosophy of incremental progress” doesn’t match “the uncompromising message of gay pride championed by Milk.”

More recently the group has been accused of being too soft in its dealings with the Obama administration and also has been blamed for failing to get the Senate last week to lift the ban on gays in the military.

If it were up to him, Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for “Milk,” the 2008 film that featured Sean Penn in the title role, would rather see the space turned into a drop-in center for gay and lesbian youth. For now, HRC officials say they are open to suggestions about how they use the space, but also add that the criticisms about the organization are overblown.—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Jerry Pritikin

    I disagree with reports that the Human Rights Campaign is a bad choice for this historic landmark location. About a month ago, I received an email from the HRC, that they were interested in getting my permission to use my iconic image of Harvey as a back wall mural. Right off the bat, It old their representative, that I have had problems with too many HRC Black-Tie Events, because they price out gay students, seniors and hourly wage workers from attending them. I also felt HRC were wrong for not including the trans-gender segment of the gay community completely off their 2009 agenda. That being said… I rather see the HRC as tenants than another franchise coffee shop or x-rated magazine store with or without my Milk image. However, if we come to agreement, I would be honored to have my photo of Harvey there.

    Often over looked, is the fact that Harvey Milk was forced to move from 575 Castro in January 1978, when his gay landlord(Paul Langley) raised his rent nearly $1,000. a month. Harvey moved Market St. and Castro.
    Back in the 1980’s, Harvey Milk’s former landlord Langley, raised the rent to the well know bar called The Elephant Walk at 18th and Castro from $6,000 a month to 12,000. and forcing them out of business. Then Mr. langley had the chutzpah to change the name o Harvey’s. He then asked me to sell him several of my Milk images, and memorabilia for his new bar. I refused, because I knew he forced both Harvey and the Elephant Walk out of business. I see a big difference now between Langley and the HRC.. Without a doubt, I do not believe Harvey would be mad that the HRC, if they were taking over his old landmark location. Mainly because of the “Milk” Movie, more and more people who come to the Castro wants to see where Harvey’s store was located. Now they will be able to come, and visit inside, and maybe they will get that old time spirit to continue the work started by Harvey Milk, over 30 years ago.

  • LeAnn

    Is that what HRC does? I thought it tried to manage and deliver the LGBT community for the Democratic Party.

  • Dr. R. Ruth Linden

    Having been part of this community for more than 30 years, I have to agree with Cleve and Bill. HRC doesn’t even come close to speaking for me.