Pelosi Remarks at Harvey Milk Forever Stamp Ceremony

May 23, 2014
Press Release

Contact: Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a ceremony commemorating the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp’s first day of issue.  In her remarks, Leader Pelosi honored the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, a San Francisco hero who dedicated his life to the fundamental American value of equality.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

Thank you very much, George, for your very generous remarks, which I will accept on behalf of my colleagues who are here who made all of those accomplishments possible.  Of course, the great John Lewis, and thank you for putting me after him on the program.

[Laughter]

“But he’s such an inspiration to all of us – I called him yesterday and his voicemail said ‘Keep your eye on the prize’

[Laughter]

“You keep us very focused there, John.  But I’m so honored to be here with the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wassermann-Schultz, my colleague who shares in the credit for some of our accomplishments, Debbie.  And Mark Takano and Mark Pocan – two Marks, co-chairs of our task force in the House, new Members, ever expanding our numbers there.  And, when Samantha – you were mentioning Tammy, and you talk about her in the Senate.  But the fact is, she was the first lesbian elected to Congress.  And, we in the House are very prideful…

[Laughter and Applause]

“When she came to Congress we were so thrilled and she was so wonderful – Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate.  Everyone was thrilled and honored to serve with her.  And, now Mark Pocan follows in her footsteps in that great district in Wisconsin – which has been very generous to America with the diversity of its leadership.

“Samantha, thank you, for giving us the global perspective on all of this – because that’s what the Harvey Milk Foundation is about, global – and, for talking about our great President.  I was thinking while you were speaking that it was four years ago, today, it was on Harvey’s 80th birthday.  Remember?  And, we were in San Francisco, we were celebrating his 80th birthday – Harvey Milk Day in California.   And, I said in my remarks, in the enthusiasm that happens in a speech…

[Laughter]

“…‘By Christmas, we will have an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Nice and aggressive.  ‘Nancy promised’ in the press the next day.

[Laughter]

“And I knew we would do what we needed to do in the Congress to do it.  But, nonetheless, and we did.  But, it would have never happened without President Barack Obama.  He provided the leadership across the board.

[Applause]

“President Obama is an unparalleled president in terms of gay rights and LGBT rights.  If it weren’t for the President’s leadership and the views expressed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it would have been very hard to get the 60 votes in the Senate.  We would have had our votes in the House.

“In fact, John Lewis, you remember this day.  We passed an amendment to the Defense bill that repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  So we were so excited, we had a good vote, the rest of that.  This was an early stage – later we would have to split it up – but this was an early stage.  So, I went to up to John, and Barney Frank, and Barbara Lee, and all these people, and I said: ‘Today, you are making history.’  They said: ‘Yes, today we passed an amendment to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’  I said: ‘No, today you are making history because you are taking your first vote in favor of the Defense bill.’

[Laughter]

“Remember, John?  You said: ‘I never vote for the Defense bill.’  

[Laughter]

“Barbara Lee, Barney Frank – the list of progressives was unprecedented – it was about 100 of them.

[Laughter]

“But I can see it in the eyes of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle – not to be political – they’re never going to vote for this bill.  Only like seven or eight of them voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  And I said: ‘That’s probably the extent of the vote we get on Defense.’  They said: ‘No, they always vote for the Defense bill.  They would never walk away from the Defense bill.  They always vote for the Defense bill.’  This is what I do.

[Laughter]

“I read minds.  And I can see that they’re not going to do that.

[Laughter]

“I said: ‘Just do me a favor – stay back and watch.’  And sure enough, not 10 of them voted for the Defense bill.  So we had this long line of progressives walking down the center aisle to vote for the Defense bill – many sacrifices to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

[Laughter]

“So, thank you, President Barack Obama.  Without his presidency, we would not have had that success.  I want that to be really clear. So anyway, he helped me keep the promise I made on Harvey Milk’s 80th birthday – Harvey Milk Day in San Francisco – that by Christmas it would be gone.  And it was.  

“Remember, Anne, when we were at Harvey’s funeral, Harvey and George’s funeral, on the steps of City Hall?  Anne spoke that day.  I kept thinking – I was thinking today on the way over here – I was thinking that day: ‘Is this how it ends?’  But it really was the beginning – a sad sacrifice to pay, but it was the beginning of so much.  And you all know what it is.  You don’t need me to elaborate.  But as we honor the life and legacy of a leader dedicated to the fundamental American value of equality – that’s why, John, your remarks were so great.  Because Harvey was a leader.  He came out first.  He urged others to come out.  He was recruiting, all of that.  But he was aggressive.  He cared about the rights of everyone.  And that’s why I loved hearing you associating with him.

“In fact, I was thinking of stories while we were in picket lines for one thing or another, leafleting for one thing and another.  So, while his focus and what he is remembered for is about his advocacy, and his leadership, and his being a pioneer in the LGBT issues and community – he was there for everyone. 

“We recognize San Francisco for being a place where so much of this could be possible.  When Stuart said that I had my semantics correct about tolerance – in San Francisco we think tolerance is sort of a condescending word.  We do not tolerate people – especially in the community.  We respect and we take pride.  We take pride.  And, we celebrate Harvey today, his courage and accomplishment in the face of really some mean spirited things demonstrated by that jury – which was a jury not only about Harvey, but about George Moscone, who stood side-by-side on gay rights. 

“We commit ourselves to continue the work that Harvey put forth.  This day represents a simple but precious message of progress that we have sought for years.  The first LGBT leader, commemorated on a stamp and, appropriately, it’s Harvey Milk.  It’s only the latest in a cascade of victories for the community: from the signal – of course we talk about DOMA and the Supreme Court, Proposition 8 in California, recent rulings striking down same sex marriage prohibitions from Arkansas to Oregon to Pennsylvania. 

“It would have been Harvey’s 84th birthday today, celebrating the stamp that bears his radiant smile – and we all know that.  Captured by photographer Danny Nicoletta – where are you Danny?  Danny Nicoletta, you captured him so well.

[Applause]

“I happen to believe he sees this triumph from where he is.  But, we know we have work to do.  We have to pass ENDA, we have to achieve marriage equality for all Americans, in every state, we have to fight discrimination and oppression wherever it exists in the world.  And, as far as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we have to make sure our men and women in uniform, and their families, have the full rights of every person in uniform, and address issues about how they were discharged from the military.  Our work is never done.  Our work is never done.

“But, Harvey’s leadership was relentless as well.  And, we too must be relentless in those efforts to ensure the fundamental rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, creed, or background.  In his work, Harvey’s legacy continues to carry us forward.  And, aren’t we blessed?  And, aren’t you proud, Mrs. Milk, of Stuart Milk?  Isn’t he wonderful?

[Applause]

“We’re all proud of Harvey Milk and he did many wonderful things – deserving of all the respect and accolades that he is receiving.  But, a real blessing to him, in his life, to have a nephew like Stuart Milk, to carry on – to carry on, to make sure, as you said, it’s all intertwined.  It’s all intertwined.  So, for so many people, for so many reasons, in so many parts of the world, Stuart Milk: you are a hero.  Thank you.

[Applause]

“Whether going by the camera store in the Castro, or wherever – as they say, picket lines, wherever it was – with Harvey: it was something we always remembered, what he said when he was sworn in.  When he was sworn in as Supervisor, he said: ‘This victory signaled a green light, to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward, and that the doors are opened to everyone.’ 

“Today, Harvey’s green light still shines, still calling us forward, still calling us to the cause of compassion, justice, and opportunity for all.  Thanks to Harvey, our society is better, forever; our laws forever fairer; and our democracy forever stronger.  Together, we’ll finish the work Harvey started and deliver on the ideals of equality that are our heritage and are the hope of our nation forever.  Thank you, all.” 

[Applause]

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