'Harvey Milk Day' is about human rights, not just gay rights

Yes, May 22 should be "Harvey Milk Day" in California so schools can educate students about the struggle and accomplishments of those who fight for everyone's rights
Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk

For the second time, a bill proposing to make May 22 “Harvey Milk Day” is headed to Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. And it’s drawing fire from some conservative groups.

One such group, Savecalifornia.com, has recently issued a news release in which it begins by claiming, “the California Senate has given final approval to a bill pressuring all California public schools to hold an annual “day of significance” honoring the life and values of homosexual activist Harvey Milk.”

That’s a pretty bold move on behalf of the California Senate — to pressure all public schools to honor the life and values of Milk.

Too bold to be true, actually.

A staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle reported the bill would “encourage public schools to observe the day and conduct classroom exercises or lessons concerning Milk. Individual schools could decide whether to do so.”

So is this really something that should draw as much attention as it’s getting, or is this just an attempt by a group to plant seeds of irrational fear in the minds of parents that “Harvey Milk Gay Day” – as Savecalifornia.com refers to it – will rot the minds of their children by teaching them that being gay is OK?

Their angle is clear: If we don’t discuss homosexuality in school, then children won’t understand it and ostracize those who are. It’s just a means of suppression. By recognizing an event such as “Harvey Milk Day,” children will be able to comprehend that gays such as Milk have worked just as hard for equality as any other minority group.

The unfortunate thing, however, isn’t necessarily that groups are speaking up against this proposed bill because it will invite conversations about homosexuality into the classroom but that this is what it may take for these conversations to take place to begin with. A bill, which gives schools the option of deciding to participate in this holiday, shouldn’t have to be passed for the issue to get the attention it deserves.

Now, I am not by any means saying these schools should promote being gay any more than they should promote being straight. It is not the responsibility of a school to promote any certain lifestyle. But it is the responsibility of a school to teach about struggles and accomplishments in the face of oppression to achieve an equal chance at a good life.

This isn’t a matter of whether a gay rights activist should be honored but whether a human rights activist should be.

— Justin Armburger
Copy Desk Chief

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