San Francisco contemplating possible renaming of airport for gay icon Harvey Milk

Ariel+view+of+SFO+at+night.+

Photo by Andrew Choy/Creative Commons licensed.

Ariel view of SFO at night.

Aideen Murphy, Staff Writer

It was the first city to ban plastic shopping bags. It was the first city to be on track to produce zero waste. Now San Francisco is considering another first: Renaming San Francisco International Airport after Harvey Milk, the famed local gay rights leader who was assassinated in 1978.

The official website that supports the airport name change, proclaims that,Adding Harvey Milk’s name to SFO isn’t just an ‘honor’ — it helps move forward the civil rights agenda Milk lived and died for.”

According to a Jan. 15 report at CBS.com, San Francisco International Airport serves 68 countries where being gay is a crime, which might technically put a Harvey Milk International Airport at odds with travelers from countries such as Saudi Arabia and China.

Mary Murphy, the faculty adviser to Urban’s Gay Straight Alliance affinity group, believes that SFO should be renamed.

In an email to the Legend, Murphy wrote that Milk “is such a central figure in the gay rights movement and a man whose life most definitely deserves to be celebrated and remembered.”

The costs of the proposal vary in part due to how many signs will need to be redone, for example, including 36 highway signs, CalTran signs, and the large sign located on the international terminal. Airport officials claim that the cost of renaming will be approximately $4.1 million, while CalTrans estimates the cost will be about $720,000.

Supervisor David Campos, who represents district nine, which includes Potrero Hill, South of Market, Bernal Heights, and Mission Bay, is adamantly in favor of the new title.

According to harveymilksfo.com, more than 80 airports bear the names of leaders and San Francisco would be the first to honor an openly gay individual.

Linda Wong, a clerk for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said that she has not yet received a request for the board’s rules committee to consider the renaming proposal.

According to sfbos.org, Campos has support from four board supervisors: Scott Wiener, John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar.

“San Francisco has always been at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality, and so people come here from around the country and around the world because of that,” said Wiener, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 15. “And for 40 million people a year to land at Harvey Milk International Airport sends an incredible message to the world.”

Urban senior Tanya Zeif believes naming the San Francisco Airport after Harvey Milk is a “great statement to make” but is problematic “because it is entering in the realm of politics.”

Other Urban students saw no reason for change. “SFO is a logical name, and if it’s already in place, why change?” asked Sarah Small (’14).

Like Small, Gabriel Pine (‘15) believes that this proposal is “fairly trivial” because the money would be better spent if they “gave it to public schools, or to LGBTQ organizations.”

Though the name “San Francisco International Airport” implies that it is in San Francisco, it is actually located in San Mateo County. However, it is still under San Francisco jurisdiction. Due to its whereabouts, some San Mateo residents believe that they should also have a say on the airport name.

Sophomore Chantal Toupin, one of the few Urban students who lives in San Mateo County, believes that “(San Mateo residents) have the right to decide on the name as well. Though SFO is named after San Francisco, it is an airport utilized by all of the Bay Area. Plus, it’s in our county, so we should have a say in what the name becomes.”

In response to the controversy that may arise from honoring Harvey Milk — including the possibility that tourists may avoid flying into an airport that conflicts with their beliefs about gay rights — Murphy observed that such debates have already occurred.

“Let’s remember that there’s an airport named after Ronald Reagan, a president who essentially did nothing in the early 1980s as thousands of American gay men died of AIDS,” Murphy wrote in her email.

“From an international perspective, I think San Francisco already has a reputation of being a ‘gay’ city,” Murphy wrote. “And that hasn’t stopped us from having very healthy tourism.”

Ariel view of SFO at night.

Ariel view of SFO at night.