Milk Stamp a Hit in Castro
The new Harvey Milk postage stamp was so popular locally that it sold out at the Castro Post Office on its first day.
A U.S. Postal Service spokesman had told local media outlets the morning of May 22 - Harvey Milk Day in California - that the Castro Post Office had about 4,500 sheets of the 49-cent forever stamps. But by the time of a late afternoon gathering at Harvey Milk Plaza, where local officials handed out some 200 canceled stamps, the post office had sold out, a stamp enthusiast told the crowd.
California Stamp News editor Branton Burke said that the Castro post office had sold out its stock of 10,000 Milk stamps in two and a half hours. Burke urged people to order Milk stamps online.
An upbeat group of about 100 people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza to celebrate the slain gay leader’s 84th birthday and the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service’s Harvey Milk postage stamp. Milk was the city’s first openly gay elected official. He and then-Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on November 22, 1978.
The Milk stamp was formally unveiled earlier in the day at an event in Washington, D.C. where Milk’s gay nephew, Stuart Milk, was present, along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power.
Also on hand was Dan Nicoletta, who took the photo of Milk that inspired the stamp’s image.
Despite the ceremony in D.C., many felt that Harvey Milk Plaza, located at the entrance to the Castro Muni station, was the perfect spot for the local unveiling and celebration. Forty-two years earlier, Milk had delivered his first political speech at the top of the stairs that lead into the station.
Others who happened to be in the Castro last Thursday evening were surprised to be a little part of history.
Maryland resident Michael Frost, 41, who said he came out about five years ago, had no idea that he would be attending the unveiling when he came to visit the Castro.
"I’m overjoyed," he said. "It’s amazing. We still have a long way to go, but San Francisco is leading the way."
Frost said he came to the Castro "to see where my peeps are." Many people in his small town remain closeted, he said, even though Maryland now has marriage equality and a transgender rights bill was recently passed.
Best friends Ben Freeman, 27, who’s gay, and Janine Bothwell, 26, who’s straight, were visiting the Castro from Scotland, where they run From Yesterday For Tomorrow, an international organization dedicated to fighting prejudice.
"It’s really amazing," said Freeman. "Today is a celebration of Harvey Milk’s legacy. He was a trailblazer, and a beacon of hope."
"We’re lucky that we stumbled upon this event," added Bothwell. "It’s like fate. Milk was incredibly inspirational."
Gay Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose District 8 includes the Castro, stood before a cardboard blow-up of the Milk stamp, which was still covered.
"This wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have a down home celebration in the Castro," Wiener said. "It’s where Harvey is from. We’ve made so much progress: marriage, repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ new hate crimes laws. It’s so important to have visibility."
Longtime AIDS activist Cleve Jones, a personal friend of Milk’s, took to the microphone and urged people to support a cause he thinks Harvey would have believed in.
Jones urged attendees to write to the Sultan of Brunei, who recently purchased the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Brunei also recently enacted Sharia law, a strict Muslim religious code that calls for the death penalty for LGBT people. Jones handed out postcards designed by himself and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black addressed to the Sultan at the hotel. A photo of Milk graced one side of the card. The other side of the card says, "Change your laws or sell your hotels."
"We didn’t want to go to Washington, D.C. for the unveiling at the White House," Jones said of himself and Black. "We wanted to be here. Harvey wasn’t a saint, he was a real person who lived here."
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, a straight ally, spoke of Milk’s contributions to the fight for equal rights.
"We are white, black, gay, straight, Asian, and Latino. He was the mayor of Castro Street. He recruited all of us to fight for justice," said Chiu, referring to a speech Milk gave in which he said, "My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you."
As the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Milk, Wiener lifted the rainbow covering, revealing the postage stamp for all to see. The crowd applauded and cheered.
Andrea Aiello, executive director of Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, participated in the unveiling. As previously reported in the Bay Area Reporter, Burke had contacted the CBD about holding a local unveiling event.
"The release of the Harvey Milk stamp tells everyone in this country that the country is proud of a gay activist," Aiello told the B.A.R. "Stamps are legitimate, they are not fringe. They reach everyone. They reach isolated young questioning girls and boys in a very normal way."
While other LGB people have been honored by having their likeness grace a stamp, the Milk stamp is the first to honor an openly gay elected official.
"When Harvey moved here you weren’t second-class if you were LGBT, you were a criminal," Black told the B.A.R. "To have that same government now lift Harvey up is incredible."
Others were thrilled to be able to purchase the stamps.
"Harvey Milk’s life and actions inspired me when I came out in 1981," said Patrick Henry, 53. "It was an extra thrill to appear at the Castro Post Office today to purchase the Harvey Milk stamps. And it’s an extraordinary pleasure to attend this amazing event at Harvey Milk Plaza this evening."