March 4, 2009
Sean Penn hasn't stopped championing Harvey Milk just because the actor won an Oscar for his portrayal of the late openly gay politician and activist.
Penn was at a press conference at San Francisco's Tosca Cafe today, asking for the passage of a California bill that calls on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare Milk's birthday, May 22, as Harvey Milk Day.
"Harvey taught us the importance of standing up for what you believe in," Penn said. "He showed us the value of never giving up, and he proved that action creates change."
Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation last year because he thinks the day should only be marked in San Francisco and not throughout the entire state.
"I trust that Gov. Schwarzenegger is an increasingly reasonable man," said Penn. "And that he understands that passing on prejudices, as surrounds this issue...is poisonous to future generations."
Supporters of the bill argue that Milk's legacy reaches far beyond his adopted city, especially since the release and success of Gus Van Sant's biopic.
"Obviously, things have changed since last year," Geoff Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California, told me this morning. "The story of Harvey Milk, which is such an important story and is now known throughout the country, will be known throughout the world. We're optimistic that in light of that the governor will reconsider."
The bill also encourages schools to use the day to teach students about Milk's life and his contributions to the state.
A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger said the governor was not commenting on the new bill: "Typically he waits until a bill is in its final form and reaches his desk before taking a position."
Penn joined Kors along with state Sen. Mark Leno and state Assembly member Tom Ammiano at the press conference.
"Having Sean Penn there results in having much greater coverage about the bill, which in turn will hopefully help educate legislators and the governor," Kors said. "There's probably ten times more press now than when the bill was introduced last year."