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O.C. supervisors decline to honor Harvey Milk's birthday -- again

May 22, 2012 |  8:10 pm

Harvey Milk

As cities and schools across California celebrated the 82nd birthday of slain gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, Orange County elected leaders remained steadfastly silent.

Activists, for the second year, asked Orange County supervisors Tuesday to recognize Milk’s birthday with a proclamation, but the elected officials declined the opportunity, as they did last year.

One of the supervisors, Janet Nguyen, walked from the board room when the activists began their presentation. Last year, Nguyen also left the meeting as the activists spoke.

Dave Hoen, a 28-year Santa Ana resident, and other activists waited nearly six hours before they could step to the podium, the room nearly empty by then. Hoen read a poem, saying he suspected that fear was the reason the five supervisors had yet to endorse a proclamation honoring Milk.

“You’re happy to keep your job instead,” he said.

The speakers, members of various gay rights groups across Orange County, began a letter, postcard and phone campaign to the supervisors about two months ago to push for the holiday.

“We’ve been ignored,” added Archer Altstaetter, the founder of the Orange County Equality Coalition.

California officially marked May 22 as “Harvey Milk Day” in 2009 and, on Tuesday, San Diego officially named a street in his honor while Long Beach broke ground on Harvey Milk Promenade Park.

For activists like Hoen, getting the county to embrace the activism of the former San Francisco supervisor would be a meaningful step toward erasing what they see as an ugly chapter in Orange County’s past.

One of Milk’s final battles was to take on former state Sen. John V. Briggs, a Fullerton resident who championed a state initiative that would have essentially given school boards the right to fire openly gay teachers.

The discord between Milk and the Orange County lawmaker was depicted in “Milk,” the Sean Penn movie about the activist.

At one point in the movie, one of Milk’s colleagues asks how many signatures would be needed to put the Briggs Initiative on the ballot.

“Whatever it is,” someone says, “they'll get it in two Sundays at church in Orange [expletive] County.”

The initiative was soundly defeated statewide in 1978. Voters in Orange County also rejected it, though by a narrower margin.


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Photo: Gay rights activists Gerson Cortes, Tony Ortuno, Archer Altstaetter, Roman Beltran, Desi Reyes, Dave Hoen, Darren Shippen and Minerva Figueroa wait to ask the Orange County supervisors to honor Harvey Milk's birthday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.