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Harvey Milk '51 Honored for His Vision and Courage

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October 9, 2009



Student leaders and UAlbany administrators with Stuart Milk and new poster of alumnus Harvey Milk.

A new Alumni Awareness poster is unveiled of Harvey Milk '51. From left, Leslie Mortland '12, Stuart Milk, Tamra Minor, Lee Friedlander '11, and University at Albany President George M. Philip. (Photo Mark Schmidt)  

Stuart Milk was a 17-year-old student at American University in 1978 when he heard that his uncle Harvey, the first openly gay elected official in a major U.S. city, had been shot and killed in San Francisco. Stuart Milk spoke about the day he will always remember, and his uncle’s vision and courage, at the University at Albany's Fourth Annual UAlbany Alumni Luncheon.

Stuart spoke of Harvey Milk’s speech before a religious group where he was booed. "My uncle confided in me later, saying ‘I got three people to come up to me privately and say we are with you.’" The task before Harvey at the time was daunting, but failing to sway public opinion would have meant gay and lesbian people would be forbidden from becoming teachers in the state of California.

There is still progress to be made, said Stuart, who has found in his travels that people thought to be gay or lesbian in Istanbul are charged three times as much for purchases, and that a gay pride parade in Serbia was cancelled for fear of violence. 

"I learned from my uncle that if we are not authentic, we put on a mask. And then the world is less," said Stuart, crediting the courage of Harvey Milk for the fact that students today no longer live in fear as they once did, as Harvey himself once did while a student at UAlbany. "To be able to take off that mask is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other on earth."

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students at UAlbany expressed a similar pride in attending the same University as Harvey Milk, noting his message of hope in a moving video.

Lee Friedlander '11, president of the UA Pride Alliance (now in its 39th year), spoke of a campus climate that has changed dramatically since Milk was a student, and one in which an LGBTQ student can feel safe and supported. Friedlander said this is reinforced by University policies.

"This was an amazing experience to be a part of such an historical moment on campus," said Friedlander of the tribute, adding that having the University honor Harvey Milk means a tremendous amount to the LGBTQ student community.

UAlbany alumnus Harvey Milk with his softball team.

Harvey Milk (second row, second from right kneeling)was an avid sportsman during his time at UAlbany. He participated in intercollegiate wrestling and played intramural softball.

"This Homecoming Weekend, Harvey Milk is our hero," said Leslie Mortland '12, director of the Gender and Sexuality Concerns Office of Student Association, which sponsored the event to honor Milk, a posthumous winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 12 of this year.

Guest speakers Mark Berger '50, M.A. '52, (Professor Emeritus of Educational Administration and Policy Studies), author Joseph E. Persico '52, and Joseph '49, M.A. '50 and Joyce Leavitt '52 Zanchelli painted a picture of the years they were in school with Milk at the State College for Teachers. He was known then for being loud, abrasive, athletic and a prankster. Joseph Zanchelli remembered trying to walk forward at the Myskania honor society induction ceremony, only to find Milk was tugging on his gown from behind.

Berger, Persico, and Joseph Zanchelli said they were in college with Milk during a very different time. There were few Jews on campus and almost no African Americans.

Berger said there is no greater proof that times have changed than the University's tribute to Milk.



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