Posted By Eric Ethington (Author) on December 14, 2010
San Francisco – The news that the Human Rights Campaign has purchased Harvey Milk’s old store and is converting it to an HRC gift shop is drawing criticism nationwide and has now spawned a protest on the famed Castro Street.
Tipped by PRIDEinUtah reader R.C.
Harvey Milk’s legacy is grassroots activism and a refusal to compromise. So the idea of the HRC, a group known for nothing but compromise and expensive parties, taking over his store is an insult to the community nationwide.
The organizations Queers against Sit/Lie, One Struggle One Fight and QueerToday.com have organized a protest on Castro street against the HRC’s move this Saturday, the 18th, at Noon pacific time.
But Milk’s friends and admirers are so incensed at the group taking over the slain San Francisco supervisor’s stomping grounds that they would rather see a Starbucks there, underscoring the tensions that exist within the various factions of the gay rights movement.
The organization is a frequent target of criticism from gay rights activists who consider its mainstream, “inside the Beltway” style ineffective. They believe the organization’s philosophy of incremental progress in the gay rights movement runs completely counter to the uncompromising message of gay pride championed by Milk.
“It’s spitting in the face of Harvey’s memory,” said AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones, who received his political education at Milk’s side in the 1970s.
It’s a historic site in the gay rights community. A sidewalk plaque outside that marks the spot’s historical significance and encases some of Milk’s ashes is a popular stop for visitors making pilgrimages to San Francisco gay landmarks.
HRC President Joe Solmonese said the new location will stock items bearing Milk’s words and image, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local elementary school named in Milk’s honor and the GLBT Historical Society. The organization also plans to preserve a Milk mural the previous tenants installed, Solmonese said.
Some of the leading activists he crossed swords with went on to launch the Human Rights Campaign, which sometimes is criticized for focusing on lavish fundraisers and political access at the expense of results, Jones said.
“[Harvey Milk] was not an ‘A-Gay’ and had no desire to be an A-Gay. He despised those people and they despised him,” he said. “That, to me, is the crowd HRC represents. Don’t try to wrap yourself up in Harvey Milk’s mantle and pretend you are one of us.”
The Human Rights Campaign has been struggling to regain its credibility with gay activists who favor a more grass roots approach since at least early 2008, when the group agreed to endorse a federal bill that included job protections for gays and lesbians, but not transgender people.