The Harvey Milk Foundation: Nephew Carries Uncle’s Legacy
Until his now famous uncle’s untimely assassination in 1978, Stuart Milk was a teenager who, though still closeted, had a unique connection with his uncle Harvey.
At the time, Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors - and only the fifth openly gay person elected to public office in the nation. He was also one of the few people in the family that, despite knowing about his nephew’s still private homosexuality, spoke to him about what it meant to be different and how difference could bring about positive change, despite the inherent challenges it presented.
Fast forward 22 years to 1999 and -- well before the 2008 blockbuster starring Sean Penn made Harvey Milk a household name -- Stuart Milk decided to pick up where his uncle had left off. It was then that he formed the Harvey Milk Foundation, a not for profit organization that, according to its website, aims not just to educate the world on the plight of the LGBT population, but takes this concept further extending it to any "gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, racial and ethnic minorities..." with the goal of giving them the right of full societal involvement and recognition.
Now 13 years since its inception, the Harvey Milk Foundation continues to extend its message not just in the U.S., but throughout the world. As [Stuart] Milk exclaims, "It’s not a U.S. or San Francisco problem. Hate and bigotry doesn’t get stopped by a body of water or the Himalayas."
Milk, who worked a full time job in the private sector until recently, admits that "addressing the fact that hatred and oppression is not acceptable in any part of the world" is, and has been a full time job, since the foundation’s beginnings. He takes no pay and is also far from short on frequent flyer miles.
"I’ve traveled to at least 50 countries and spoken with at least 200,000 people throughout the world," he says. "And we’re making progress, but there is still so much to be done."
Speaking to the SFGN, Milk’s magnetism is undeniable and his knowledge seemingly unending.
The gleam in his eyes, pupils wide with excitement as he speaks while sipping his Starbucks coffee, only affirms the words of Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent who summed up Milk by stating, "The great thing about Stuart is that, despite so many people with iconic, deceased family members, Stuart actually took the chance to not just continue his uncle’s message, but to take it to a whole new level rather than just letting it die out or become part of the history books."
And indeed, history plays an even deeper role in this story than Kent suggests.
When he decided to start the foundation in 1999, it was during the festivities for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. He was accepting the award - the highest civilian honor given for societal contribution -- on behalf of his uncle Harvey. And it was here that, as Milk recalls, a conversation with a fellow recipient led to the birth of what is now the HMF.
That fellow recipient was none other than Desmond Tutu, and his message to Milk was clear. "He challenged me to do more," Milk says, nonchalantly rehashing his conversation with the world-famous anti-apartheid figurehead and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Nonetheless, he got the point.
Milk immediately linked up with Anne Kronenburg, a long time Milk family friend and fellow activist who had worked for Harvey Milk’s San Francisco campaign. There and then they decided to co-found the organization and the Harvey Milk Foundation (HMF) was officially started.
Since then, Milk hasn’t looked back enduring a seemingly unending travel schedule and, admittedly putting himself in harm’s way to work not only to change the future, but to speak about it through the lens of both the past and present, with education being at the forefront of the foundation’s objectives.
Overseas, he travels to countries where he "has to look over his shoulder," advocating for unity amongst minorities of all types.
In 2011, according to the HMF Website, he joined Czech tennis star Martina Navratilova to successfully boycott the Czech government’s banning of a national Czech PrideFest; in Hungary, Milk and supporters marched against thousands of Neo Nazi’s in Budapest to help the LGBT community to show their Pride despite violent protest; in the Middle East, Milk has held talks in Istanbul and other countries - through their consulates or in person - to counter the region’s brutality and "hate speech" directed at sexual and ethnic minorities. And this barely scratches the surface.