By Celia BURSTEIN
In commemoration of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill last October, designating March 22 as Harvey Milk Day.
The bill, signed more than 30 years after the politician’s assassination by a political rival, encourages all educational institutions “to conduct suitable commemorative exercises” in recognition of Milk’s contributions to California, among which is the rise of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement in the state.
According to GUSD Public Information Coordinator Elena Heimerl, the recognition of Harvey Milk is a school site-based decision, in which the determination of suitable exercises is up to administrator and teacher discretion. She said that the district has not received any information from the state and has likewise given no notice to individual schools.
The office of Senator Mark Leno, author of the bill, emphasized that this bill is not a mandate, and though the state has not notified the districts about the new legislation, it has been incorporated into the California Education Code. As such, the office said it is expected of people to be familiar with the bill.
Clark Magnet High School government teacher Nick Doom said he decided not to commemorate Harvey Milk Day due to the lack of communication regarding the bill. “I was not given any instruction by the district. I was not given any instruction by the California Department of Education, so there is no information,” said Doom. “If the State was really concerned and wanted to make it an issue, they would create guidelines and issue them.”
Gina Jung, California Department of Education Information Officer, said that the execution of the bill is not up to the department. “The governor and the state legislator stripped our curriculum from funding, and that includes curriculum guidance for special days, like Harvey Milk,” Jung said, citing a July 24, 2009 department news release regarding a five-year suspension of school instructional materials. However, in a California Senate press release issued in September, the bill is said to have no cost to the state due to the current fiscal crisis.
The Governor’s office said it had no information regarding the bill’s communication policy, saying that Schwarzenegger’s line of duty is to sign the bill, whereas the author should be familiar with its policies.
Doom believes an email would have sufficed.
Crescenta Valley High School sophomore Jacob Mangana, a Gay Straight Alliance Club member, said he never heard of Harvey Milk. “I think it would be hard for us to just get stuff around if nobody really knows about it,” said Mangana. “If they don’t tell the district, it’s going to be hard for the schools to know what’s really going on.”
Doom added that the commemoration of Harvey Milk should be local. “Our district is more concerned about its constituents than the agenda of San Francisco,” he said.
He also believes the encouragement of commemorative exercises to all educational institutions below secondary schools is inappropriate. “There are many ways to promote diversity other than singling out one individual who was in office for only one year,” Doom said.
In a May press release, Leno describes Milk’s impact to the state as a whole. “This is a significant day not only for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians who continue the fight for equality, but also for all people who believe in liberty and justice for all,” Leno said. “Harvey showed us that those simple and often-repeated words are worth fighting for.”
The governor realized this statewide impact after first vetoing a similar bill in 2008, claiming that it should be recognized at the local level. Schwarzenegger signed the bill after Obama awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the movie Milk was released, according to CBS. To this, Doom responded, “Everyone can change his mind.”