Tomorrow is Harvey Milk Day here in California. It would have been his 80th birthday.
From 2010, it’s hard to remember how different San Francisco was then. We didn’t yet see the graphic reminders of AIDS on every bus and, in some neighborhoods, every street – the skeletal men with red blotches on their faces. People’s Temple was a respected political army, until their utopian experiment ended so tragically in the jungle of Guyana. San Francisco hadn’t yet lost a certain innocence.
We didn’t have rent control yet, and when I spoke to a reporter about a rent increase (affecting an elderly Irish-American couple on Dolores Street, both with cancer) I was suspended from my job at the Human Rights Commission. Harvey championed me:
Harvey’s resolution against ‘gag orders”
I recall when I would visit Harvey in his City Hall office. In the small anteroom, he papered the walls with hate mail that he received: really vile threatening letters. He was under siege. But at least at the time he felt close to Dan White, another outsider on the Board.
I mostly worked with Harvey on legislation which would impose a new tax on housing speculators. We even produced this leaflet in support of the legislation:
This at a time when a house in a good neighborhood in San Francisco cost $30,000. Some things in this city have gotten worse. But a lot has improved. We have rent control. Plans are in place to prevent Downtown from wiping out the Tenderloin and Chinatown and to prevent any more International Hotel evictions. Friends I thought would be long gone from AIDS are living healthy lives.
One last memory of Harvey, my most vivid recollection.
At a meeting in the back of his camera store someone referred to a man as “mentally unbalanced”. Harvey started laughing: “Balanced? Who’s balanced? You think I’m balanced?” And he laughed so hard he slid off the couch onto the floor. We watched our new Supervisor, in hysterics on the floor at the idea that anyone would mistake him for “balanced”.
To you, a happy Harvey Milk Day