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Orange County v. Harvey Milk

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    NEWSLETTERS

    This spring the Orange County Board of Supervisors, among its proclamations, has congratulated Tom McKernan of the Auto Club on his retirement, declared a "Public Safety Telecommunicators Week," and proclaimed May "Older Americans Month." (That last is a redundancy -- if you look at the federal budget or at the age of California's leading elected officials, you know it's always Older Americans Month).

    But this board declined to issue a proclamation marking the new state day honoring the late Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor and champion of equality for gays who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated in 1978 by a fellow supervisor as he did work -- the people's business.

    Yes, Milk and Orange County had some tough history; one of his chief political opponents was the Orange County politician John Briggs.

    But that was more than 30 years ago. And all that was being asked for by Orange County citizens -- some of who had to wait six hours to testify before the board, according to the LA Times -- is an official acknowledgment.

    Declining to do so doesn't just show supervisors to be hard-hearted. It shows them to be foolish, on multiple levels.

    By refusing the proclamation of Harvey Milk Day (which was approved by Gov. Schwarzenegger three years ago), Orange County bought itself a bunch of bad publicity that it doesn't need.

    For a county with an economy highly dependent on world trade, this decision sends an inconvenient message that OC is less than committed to international standards of human rights and fair play. On a personal level, it sends a signal to gays who may be contemplating living or working in Orange County that they are less than fully welcome.

    That signal represents a hypocrisy for the county. The first of the "cultural values" that the superivsors say they support -- on official agendas -- is a belief in "attracting and retaining the best and brightest."

    The supervisors haven't explained themselves, but they are presumably worried about a backlash from large OC churches and from conservative, older voters in the county (or "Older Americans" in local parlance). But they are wildly out of step with younger people, and the future of their county.

    That's not a good place to be.

    They should make amends -- and not only with a proclamation. The supervisors might be wise to convene a county-wide event that looks at Milk's legacy and the Briggs battles.

    Make it serious and even-handed. Invite Briggs and others who fought Milk. Bring old Milk allies. Maybe show the Sean Penn movie about Milk.

    Maybe no minds get changed, but Orange County, and its elected offiicials, would benefit from having the conversation.

    Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

     

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