Metro Weekly

Clear Harvey Milk Airport for Takeoff

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos's push to rename the city's airport is a fitting honor for slain gay icon

For many, airports are uncomfortable complexes of invasive pat-downs, overpriced sundries and shoeless shuffling. Surly exchanges across countless customer-service counters provide tense white noise between garbled boarding announcements.

For some few of us, though, airports remain inspiring cathedrals of human ingenuity. Looking out to the tarmac from a glass-walled concourse, watching a 747 lift itself into the skies remains an awesome spectacle, even as the scent and clamor of the nearby Sbarro and Cinnabon distracts.

This enthusiasm for the jet age has me rooting for an effort introduced last week by gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos. His campaign would have the generically named San Francisco International Airport rebranded to include Harvey Milk in its moniker. First, the board will need to vote to put the question on the ballot, and then San Francisco voters would need to agree. I so hope they do.

But what the heck does Harvey Milk, the out San Francisco city supervisor, assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by Supervisor Dan White, have to do with an airport? Plenty.

Milk is particularly known for imploring gay people to come out. ”Every gay person must come out! … Every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all.”

That dovetails beautifully into the role of an airport, which is more than a building designed for passengers to board and deplane, with surrounding runways for take-offs and landings. An airport is an invitation to ”come out”; to come out and see a larger world than the one you know. It is also a welcome to those arriving, whether their flight time was 40 minutes or 15 hours. An airport is a pulse point of humanity, and San Francisco International has one of the strongest beats on Earth.

Campos – who knows what it means to move about the planet, having emigrated from Guatemala when he was a child, settling with his family in California – points to there being no airport named for an out gay person. As we’ve got airports named for Abraham Lincoln (Springfield, Ill.) and Leonardo da Vinci (Rome), there are airports with at least a hint of gay. Barbara Jordan, the late Texas congresswoman who was not necessarily out, has a terminal named for her at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. But top billing belongs to Air Force Capt. John August Earl Bergstrom, killed during the Japanese bombing in 1941 of Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

There was an effort to name San Francisco International for another hero of mine, the late Rep. Tom Lantos, Holocaust survivor and dedicated congressman, according to SFGate. Still, the ethos of Milk is more suited to the mission of an airport, in that an airport simultaneously broadens horizons and makes the world smaller. Like gay people coming out, destroying those myths and lies, air travel offers a similar challenge to prejudice. It takes what is alien – be it a different region of one’s own country or a radically different culture on the other side of the planet – and makes it familiar. As the surest way for a straight person to stop fearing gay people is to simply meet them, the same works for people across state lines and international borders.

So while I’m enthusiastically in favor of Campos’s proposal, I’d go a step further and hope the branding would include a new airport tagline: Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport: Come Out.

Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Contact him at

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.