Tag Archives: harvey milk

A look at violence at gay venues

The deadly shooting early June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, follows several incidents of violence against people at gay venues.

At least 50 people were killed and at least 53 were wounded at the nightclub. The shooter died during a shootout with SWAT team members.

A look at some incidents since 1973:

  • Dec. 31, 2013: About 750 people were celebrating New Year’s Eve at a popular gay nightclub in Seattle when Musab Mohammed Masmari poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured. Masmari was arrested a month later as he prepared to leave the country. He apologized in a statement to the court and said he didn’t remember his actions because he blacked out after drinking a bottle of cheap whiskey. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.
  • March 1, 2009: Three men threw rocks into a gay bar in Galveston, Texas, injuring two male patrons. Brothers Lawrence Lewis III, 20 and Lawrneil Lewis, 18, along with their cousin Sam Gray, 17, were charged with a hate crime for throwing the rocks, which were apparently being used as doorstops, into Robert’s Lafitte bar.
  • Sept 22, 2000: Ronald Gay walked into the Backstreet Cafe, a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia, and opened fire, killing one man and wounding six other patrons, two of them seriously. Gay, a 55-year-old drifter who told police he was upset over the slang connotation of his last name, pleaded guilty to the murder of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet and was sentenced to four life terms.
  • Oct. 7, 1998: Gay college student Matthew Shepard was beaten into a coma while tied to a fence outside the small college town of Laramie, Wyoming. He never regained consciousness and died five days after the attack. His attackers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, claimed their motive was robbery to get money for drugs and not a hate crime. The crime spurred debate on the effectiveness of hate crime laws. McKinney and Henderson are serving life sentences for murder.
  • 21, 1997: A nail-laden device exploded in a back room of the Otherside Lounge, a nightclub in Atlanta with a mostly gay and lesbian clientele. The lounge was crowded with about 150 people when the device went off on a rear patio. Five people were wounded. Eric Rudolph was later convicted for the bombing as well as bombings at Centennial Olympic Park and abortionclinics in suburban Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. The 1996 Olympics bombing killed one person and wounded 111, and the Birmingham bombing killed a police officer and maimed a nurse. Rudolph is serving four life sentences in federal prison.
  • 27, 1978: San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, 48, a gay-rights activist, were shot to death inside City Hall by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White. Milk became one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. White argued that junk food fueled his rampage. His now infamous “Twinkie defense,” supported by a psychiatrist, worked. Instead of murder, White was convicted of manslaughter. Thousands took to the streets in protest. White served a little more than three years in prison before he committed suicide.
  • June 24, 1973: The Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans’ French Quarter killed 32 people. Most of those killed were trapped by burglar bars on three front windows. A survivor said he believed someone dashed an inflammable liquid on the wooden stairway to the crowded second-floor lounge and lit it. The arsonist was never caught.



Salt Lake City names street for Harvey Milk

The Salt Lake City Council has decided to name a street after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk, the latest display of its position as a blue island in a sea of deep-red, where the prevailing Mormon faith still has a fraught relationship with the LGBT community.

Utah’s capital city recently elected its first openly gay mayor and its second sitting gay councilman, creating an increasingly friendly atmosphere for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The conservative religion’s tone on gay issues has softened in recent years, but it still opposes same-sex marriage, maintains homosexuality is a sin and recently banned baptisms for the children of gay parents. Faith leaders said the highly criticized move would avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings.

The Mormon church declined to comment on the council’s unanimous vote to rename the street. Sponsor Stan Penford, the city’s first openly gay councilman, said that leaders likely would have reached out if they had a strong opposition.

Milk set the tone for the modern gay rights movement and his uncompromising calls for gay people to come out of the closet inspired a generation of activists, including many in Utah, said supporters who spoke at a Tuesday hearing that drew about 100 people.

“This sends a loud message that Salt Lake City values inclusion and diversity,” said Troy Williams, director of the group Equality Utah.

Several people spoke against the idea, with many saying that a local leader or inventor should be honored instead. The street serves as the ending spot for an annual parade honoring the deeply felt legacy of Mormon pioneers.

“Those are our pioneers, not San Francisco’s pioneers,” said resident Ralph Pahnke.

The street with the honorary name will be located near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Lined with coffee shops, restaurants and a community garden, it runs through one of the city’s most in-demand neighborhoods.

Milk became one of the first openly gay people to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. A disgruntled former city supervisor assassinated him and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone at City Hall in 1978.

The activist’s life was memorialized in the Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Milk,” and he also has been honored with a commemorative stamp and a posthumous Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The San Diego City Council approved naming a street for Milk in 2012, something officials said was a first.

The honorary name will be placed on part of a street that is nine blocks from Mormon church headquarters. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008 after the church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California.

Mormon leaders subsequently softened their tone, backing a Utah anti-discrimination law last year that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination while safeguarding the rights of religious groups and individuals.

As many as two-thirds of Utah’s 3 million residents are believed to be members of the Mormon religion, though some are more involved in the faith than others.

Utah’s capital also has supported a thriving LGBT community. An annual LGBT pride parade is the second largest in the state — behind only the yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers.

The city’s first openly gay mayor, Jackie Biskupski, took office this year, as well as its second sitting gay councilman. Derek Kitchen and his husband were one of three couples who sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.


Salt Lake City may name street for gay rights leader Harvey Milk

Salt Lake City could soon have a street named after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk. 

City officials say they have been working with LGBT leaders on the initiative, which would place Harvey Milk Boulevard near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. 

If approved, the name would go on 900 South, about a mile and half from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008, after the Mormon church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California. 

But Salt Lake City also has supported an active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

An annual gay pride parade is the second largest in the state — second only to a yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers. When a judge overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban in December 2013, Mayor Ralph Becker presided over unions of same-sex couples who flocked to wed in the hours after the ruling. 

“We’ve had so many tremendous victories this year alone, and I think Harvey really set the tone for the LGBT movement — how to be successful and organize us politically,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. 

Williams said he first sat down with Becker more than a year ago. The idea could come before the City Council before the end of the year, said Councilman Stan Penfold, the first openly gay council member. 

“My hope is that we can send a message as a city that we acknowledge that kind of movement,” Penfold said. They are still working on what part of the street will bear Milk’s name, he said. 

Milk became one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1977. His uncompromising calls for gays to come out of the closet inspired a generation of activists, but he was assassinated at City Hall along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a disgruntled former city supervisor in 1978. 

The activist’s life was memorialized in the Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Milk,” and he’s also been honored with a commemorative stamp and a posthumous Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The San Diego City Council approved naming a street for Milk in 2012, something officials said was a first. 

“Harvey is a true icon for the LGBT community. He set the standard for coalition building and collaborative leadership,” Williams said. “He is our Martin Luther King Jr.”

The last gun store in San Francisco is closing doors for good

The only gun store in San Francisco is shuttering for good, saying it can no longer operate in the city’s political climate of increased gun control regulations and vocal opposition to its business.

“It’s with tremendous sadness and regret that I have to announce we are closing our shop,” High Bridge Arms manager Steve Alcairo announced in a Facebook post on Sept. 11. “It has been a long and difficult ride, but a great pleasure to be your last San Francisco gun shop.”

Alcairo said the breaking point came this summer when a local politician proposed a law that would require High Bridge Arms to video record every gun sale and submit a weekly report of ammunition sales to the police. If passed, the law would join several local gun control ordinances on the books in a city still scarred by the 1993 murder of eight in a downtown high-rise and the 1978 assassination of Mayor George Moscone and gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

“I’m not doing that to our customers. Enough is enough,” Alcairo said. “Buying a gun is a constitutionally protected right. Our customers shouldn’t be treated like they’re doing something wrong.”

The announcement prompted an outpouring of sympathy and anger online from gun enthusiasts _ and a steady stream of customers eager to take advantage of going-out-of-business prices.

The new rifles lining the store’s walls are quickly dwindling, and the handguns in the glass cases are going fast. So are T-shirts that boast in English and Chinese that High Bridge is “The Last San Francisco Gun Store.”

For years, the High Bridge Arms weathered mounting restrictions imposed by local lawmakers and voters, who passed a handgun ban in 2005 that a judge later struck down. The gun store increasingly stood out in the gentrifying Bernal Heights neighborhood of hot restaurants, trendy bars and a chic marijuana dispensary, while weathering organized campaigns calling for its closure.

High Bridge will close Oct. 31, Alcairo said.

Supervisor Mark Farrell said he introduced the latest bill to help police combat violent crime in the city. “Anything that makes San Francisco safer, I support,” he said.

Farrell said the bill hasn’t been voted on, and he doesn’t understand why the store is closing now. He said it was “comical” that the High Bridge is blaming its closure on a proposed law still months away from taking effect.

Alcairo said news coverage of the bill’s introduction in July slowed sales considerably because customers wrongly believed their purchases would be recorded and turned over to police. He said he had to lay off three clerks and that sales slumped throughout the summer. The store’s summer slump comes amid an overall gun sales surge in the state, according to California Department of Justice statistics.

The California DOJ reported 931,000 guns sold last year_ three times the number sold in 2004 and the second highest annual number since the department began keeping sales records in 1991.

In the end, Alcairo said, he and the High Bridge Arms owner tired of the continued opposition and mountains of paperwork required by the San Francisco Police Department, state Department of Justice and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Alcairo grew up near the store and says he is angry and disappointed with San Francisco.

“This is the city that defended gay marriage and fights for unpopular causes like medical marijuana,” he said. “Where’s my support?”

Champion pistol shooter Bob Chow opened the store in 1952, four years after competing for the United States in the summer Olympics in London. Chow sold the store to Andy Takahashi in 1988. Chow died in 2003. Takahashi, who also owns the building that houses the store, declined to comment.

Alcairo said the owner shouldn’t have a problem attracting another type of business in economically booming San Francisco.

The quirky city fixture attracted gun enthusiasts from around the world, many posing in photos with Alcairo and his pistol-packing clerks. Alcairo said professional athletes would visit the store when playing in San Francisco for the novelty of buying a weapon _ and a T-shirt _ from the city’s last gun store.

“High Bridge has always taken care of me,” said Chris Cheng, a San Francisco resident who calls it “my home store.” Cheng won a $100,000 cash prize and a professional marksman contract after winning the History Channel’s “Top Shot” competition.

“It’s always been a challenge for the store to do business in San Francisco,” Cheng said.

Right-wing Christians told to return mail with Harvey Milk stamp

A Christian hate group is urging its members not to accept mail bearing the new Harvey Milk stamp.

The American Family Association tells its followers not to use the Harvey Milk stamp and to return mail postmarked with the stamp to the sender.

A statement from the organization instructed evangelical Christians in what to do if they received a letter or parcel with a Harvey Milk stamp:

“1. Refuse to accept the Harvey Milk stamp if offered by your local post office. Instead, ask for a stamp of the United States flag.

“2. Refuse to accept mail at your home or business if it is postmarked with the Harvey Milk stamp. Simply write ‘Return to Sender” on the envelope and tell your postman you won’t accept it.”

The AFA is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading malicious lies and propaganda about gays. In rejecting the stamp, AFA president Tim Wildmon made inflammatory charges about Milk, one of the first the first openly gay people elected to public office in the United States.

“Harvey Milk was a very disreputable man and used his charm and power to prey on young boys with emotional problems and drug addiction,” Wildmon said in a statement. “He is the last person we should be featuring on a stamp.”

Milk, who was elected in 1977, served less than a year on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before a fellow supervisor assassinated him. According to  his biographers, Milk was attracted to young men in their 20s and teens.

Milk’s fame and influence have grown since his assassination. President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom to Milk in 2009, and California holds an annual “Harvey Milk Day” on May 22.

The U.S. Postal Service chose May 22 to release a commemorative stamp featuring Milk’s image.

Actor Sean Penn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the activist in the 2008 biopic Milk.

Harvey Milk Forever Stamp to be dedicated at White House May 22

The White House will celebrate Harvey Milk Day on May 22 with the dedication of the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp.

The stamp image is based on a circa 1977 black-and-white photograph of Milk in front of his Castro Street Camera store in San Francisco taken by Daniel Nicoletta of Grants Pass, Oregon.

Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, Virginia, was art director for the stamp.

Those expected to attend the White House ceremony include:

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

U.S. Rep. John Lewis

City Councilmember Evan Low of Campbell, California

Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman

Harvey Milk Foundation president and founder Stuart Milk

Harvey Milk Foundation co-founder Anne Kronenberg

Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute president Chuck Wolfe

Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert

Another celebration will take place in California on May 28.

Milk was a visionary leader who became one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

The postal service said Milk’s “achievements gave hope and confidence to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in the United States and elsewhere at a time when the community was encountering widespread hostility and discrimination.”

Milk believed that government should represent all citizens, ensuring equality and providing needed services.

Less than a year after he took office in California, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978.

In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Customers may order the Harvey Milk stamp now through this link.

Harvey Milk Day is observed in California. May 22 is Milk’s birthday.

U.S. to dedicate Harvey Milk stamp

Time to find a pen pal in Finland.

On Harvey Milk Day, which is a state holiday in California on May 22, the White House will hold a ceremony to dedicate the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp.

Milk, according to a news release from the U.S. Postal Service, was a “visionary leader.” He was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year after he took office, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone killed by former Supervisor Dan White.

Milk believed that government should represent all citizens, ensuring equality and providing needed services, according to the post office’s announcement.

In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

A second dedication ceremony for the stamp will take place in San Francisco on May 28.

Meanwhile, Itella, the Finnish postal service, has announced a line of stamps featuring the work of Tom of Finland aka Touko Laaksonen.

A statement from Itella said, “His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures. …The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer.” 

A petition is circulating that calls on the service in Finland to remove the ToF stamps from circulation.


San Francisco airport won’t be named for Harvey Milk

A San Francisco lawmaker said on May 7 that he has abandoned a proposal to rename San Francisco International Airport after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk and instead plans to pursue getting an airport terminal named in Milk’s honor.

Supervisor David Campos said he gave up on the idea of putting a question on the city ballot asking voters to approve the name change after the plan generated a fair amount of opposition, including from the city’s daily newspaper and Mayor Edwin Lee.

Some fellow politicians, business leaders and members of the public wanted the airport renamed after someone else or no one at all, Campos said.

Campos now plans to introduce an ordinance establishing a committee that would recommend which of San Francisco International’s four passenger terminals should be named for Milk.

The committee, to be appointed by the mayor and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, will have three months to come back with its recommendation. It also will be asked to suggest other airport structures that could be named in honor of other prominent San Franciscans.

“We wanted to do it in a way that was a unifying thing as opposed to having a political fight,” Campos said of the compromise. “And we believe that is the best way to honor Harvey.”

Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, who travels the world talking about gay rights as the head of a foundation named for his late uncle, said he thinks the airport’s international terminal would be the most meaningful choice. Harvey Milk already is recognized abroad, with a gay community center named for him in Italy and a gay rights celebration observed in his honor in Chile.

“We have work to do in the U.S., don’t get me wrong, but where Harvey was 35 years ago is where so much of the world is today, so I think that is what resonates the most,” Stuart Milk said.

San Diego finally gets Harvey Milk Street

Nearly a year after it was approved, two blocks in San Diego’s Hillcrest district have officially become Harvey Milk Street in honor of the gay civil rights hero.

Until this week, a sign for Blaine Avenue was still posted below one for Harvey Milk Street.

City Council President Todd Gloria tells City News Service the cost of renaming was paid with donations.

When it was approved, city officials said they thought the street near San Diego’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center was the first in the country to be renamed in Milk’s memory.

Milk was assassinated less than a year after he took public office in San Francisco in 1977.

Milk was stationed in San Diego when he was in the Navy.