EDITORIAL Airports are special. There are schools and roads and buildings — and rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike — named after famous and not-so-famous people, but airports, particularly major international airports, are, in a word, monumental. Tens of millions of people, many of them immigrants, have come through Kennedy Airport in New York, a place named after an inspirational leader who was killed before his time. We’re not so enamored with Reagan National in Washington, but the guy was a hugely influential president of the United States. Lt. Colonel O’Hare was a war hero.
That’s why the idea of naming San Francisco International Airport after Harvey Milk is so wonderful — and entirely appropriate.
There are lots of politicians in the world, and there have been many civic leaders who have done great things in and for San Francisco. But Harvey Milk was different, and special.
Milk was the first openly person gay person elected to public office in a major American city. He was an inspiration to tens of thousands of people, and his speeches, his signature line — “you’ve gotta give them hope — and his role as an LGBT icon made a better life possible for generations of young people who faced, and often still face, oppression, discrimination and fear.
It’s important to remember that, although he only served 11 months in office, Milk changed San Francisco, changed America, and changed the world. His bold actions forced the nation to accept a marginalized community. He represented the best of San Francisco, the essential spirit of rebellion, the demand for justice and the passion for equality that defines this city in the world.
And the struggle he embodied isn’t even close to over: All over the world, LGBT people are beaten, denied basic rights, killed for who they are. And if San Francisco can’t make a giant global statement against that, nobody can.
The renaming of SFO wouldn’t just honor a local political figure. I would make an international statement. The airport is a major West Coast hub, and people from all over the globe pass through its gates. While many of them won’t care who the airport is named for, others will — and an appropriate display in the terminals would educate countless visitors, many from countries and cultures where LGBT people are still not accepted, about the role Milk played in changing society’s attitudes.
We don’t take lightly the naming of civic institutions. There’s too much opportunity for political mischief, for someone like former mayors Willie Brown or Dianne Feinstein — neither of whom changed the city in a positive way or made dramatic statements — to get honored. That’s one reason that the San Francisco Airports Commission has declined to name anything after anyone who is still alive.
Sup. David Campos, who is promoting this idea, has taken the right approach: A decision this serious ought to go before the voters. The supervisors should place his charter amendment on the ballot, and the people of San Francisco should tell the world that the legacy of Harvey Milk is alive — and out there, our front, for everyone to see.