Adding Harvey Milk's name to SFO closer to takeoff 

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The effort to add slain civil rights icon Harvey Milk’s name to San Francisco International Airport is gaining momentum, and needs support from one more supervisor before the measure can be put to voters in November.

Supervisor Scott Wiener on Friday announced he will support the campaign to rename the airport Harvey Milk-San Francisco International Airport.

“For the LGBT community, in terms of really embracing the significance of our community to the city, the country, and the world, Harvey Milk is the one,” Wiener said.

Supervisors Eric Mar, John Avalos and Jane Kim are co-sponsors of the measure, which is the brainchild of Supervisor David Campos. Six supervisors are needed to place a measure on the ballot. The deadline to place a measure on the November ballot is early summer.

Opponents of the measure, such as the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, argue that the airport should not be named after anyone, and that rebranding the airport would be prohibitively expensive.

To that, Campos responded that more than 80 airports across the country — from Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., and Norman Mineta in San Jose to John Wayne and Bob Hope in Southern California — are named after individuals.

“At some point,” he said, “it is appropriate that an openly LGBT person be given that recognition.”

It is believed that Milk-SFO would be the first and only airport in the world named after an openly gay person. Some 44 million people use the airport as a travel hub every year — including flights to and from the 77 countries where the rights of homosexual and transgender people are suppressed.

That would be “tremendously significant,” said Campos — who added that meanwhile, the airport would still be SFO.

“We are not getting rid of the brand that is San Francisco International Airport,” Campos said. “We’re not changing the SFO. It would be Milk-SFO ... we are merely adding Harvey Milk’s name.”

Cost estimates of the rebranding vary wildly, from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million. The Board’s budget analyst is in the process of calculating its own figure, but the cost argument is a “red herring,” Wiener said.
“We rename schools, we rename community centers, we rename all sorts of things, and there’s always a cost involved,” he said. “We shouldn’t debate that — we should debate the merits of whether to name it after [Milk].”

Milk, who along with Mayor George Moscone was shot and killed at City Hall in November 1978, has catapulted to international prominence in recent years partly thanks to the 2008 Oscar-winning film “Milk.” Some of Milk’s Hollywood supporters as well as civic-minded corporate donors could be tapped to cover the costs of replacing signs and literature.

If the measure does make it to the ballot, voters would see Milk’s name at the ballot box roughly 35 years to the day from his assassination, said Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew and chairman of the Harvey Milk Foundation.

“I never thought I would see Harvey’s name on a ballot again,” Stuart Milk said.

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Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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