On Thursday, the United States Postal Service released the new Harvey Milk commemorative postage stamp.
In light of his historic accomplishments and the tragedy of his death, there is a poignancy to this recognition.
Throughout his life, in fact, Harvey Milk struggled for the right to be recognized at all. Through failed political campaigns, traumatic personal trials and mass cultural upheaval in the United States, Milk persevered – calling for fairer treatment for gay Americans and fighting for his voice to be heard.
When he finally won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk didn’t just become a symbolic figure as the first openly gay man to win election to public office. He took on the hard work of fighting for equal rights for all people no matter who they loved. He helped pass civil rights legislation that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, referred to by the New York Times at the time as “the most stringent and encompassing in the nation.”
Milk used his position to fight for others overlooked by society. His populist agenda for the city included support for public transportation and affordable housing. With his advocacy on issues like expanded child care, working-class families discovered they had a strong ally in Milk.
But like too many in our nation’s history who had the courage to speak up for those who had no voice, Milk was silenced far too soon. The impact of Harvey Milk’s legacy is still strong to this day. Current LGBT elected officials include a United States Senator, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, the first openly gay person of color in Congress, and the mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city. This year, Maine has the opportunity to elect the nation’s first openly gay governor. Marriage equality has been legalized in eighteen states and the District of Columbia, and federal judges have struck down bans in more than half a dozen states. While Democrats remain committed to expanding full marriage equality to every state, each of these milestones brings us closer to breaking down the barriers that Harvey Milk was among the first to crack.
Last year, the USPS celebrated the civil rights movement with a series of stamps depicting the freedom promised by the Emancipation Proclamation, the courage of Rosa Parks, and the struggle for equality on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Today, Harvey Milk takes his rightful place among America’s civil rights pioneers, joining Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and César Chávez among the civil rights icons formally recognized by the United States Postal Service to adorn a postage stamp. It is an opportunity to recognize his contributions in the fight to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity once and for all.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is chair of the Democratic National Committee.