SFO terminal to be renamed in honor of Harvey Milk

San Francisco is preparing to rename a terminal at the San Francisco International Airport after slain LGBT supervisor Harvey Milk and install artwork memorializing the civil rights icon.

The name change was first introduced in 2013 by then-Supervisor David Campos, who had initially hoped to name the entire airport after Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a major city, but the proposal met with opposition.

Instead, an airport naming committee was established, which recently recommended naming SFO’s Terminal 1 after Milk, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. He served in the post until he was gunned down at City Hall in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White.

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Nearly five years later, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee is set to vote Thursday on legislation introduced by Supervisor Hillary Ronen and co-sponsored by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy calling on the airport to make the change. The legislation requires the director of the airport to report to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor by Dec. 1 “describing the steps the Airport has taken and plans to take” to name the terminal after Milk and publicize it.

Ronen said she also plans to amend the legislation to require the director to submit to the Arts Commission a plan for placement of artwork memorializing Milk in the terminal by September or October.

“In order to honor one of the nation’s great gay leaders, raise awareness of the history of the LGBT movement, and give hope to young LGBT people in cities everywhere, the Board of Supervisors finds it fitting that a terminal at the San Francisco International Airport be named in honor of Harvey Milk,” the legislation says.

“It’s a long time coming. It’s the gateway to San Francisco, and so recognizing Harvey and making that connection to our community is appropriate. It’s beautiful,” said Sheehy during an editorial meeting with the San Francisco Examiner on Monday.

San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, left, and Mayor George Moscone are shown in April 1977 in the Mayor’s Office during the signing of The City’s gay rights bill. (Bob McLeod/1977 S.F. Examiner)

Ronen said she would have preferred naming the entire airport after Milk, as initially conceived, but said there are strong opinions “all over the country when you try and rename an airport” and San Francisco proved no different.

“I know that’s what people were fighting for,” Sheehy said. “The amount of effort that it would have taken to do that when we have a lot of things we need to work on in the community — it would have been fun to have it named after Harvey but what we have now is a good compromise.”

The estimated cost to the airport to implement the name change is $357,000, according to a Budget Analyst report, which includes $22,000 to replace existing signage, such as AirTrain Station identification signs, directories, and maps of the Airport and terminals, and $335,000 to place a new building sign on Terminal 1. The funding is expected to come from the existing signage budget as part of the terminal’s $2.4 billion renovation, which began in 2016 and is expected to continue in stages until 2024.

Ronen said given the rise in murders of LGBT people in the country and the current political climate with President Donald Trump, the gesture is more than just symbolic. She said it will help combat hate and bring “material change in people’s lives” when they may arrive and see “there’s a place where they belong.”

The 688,000 square foot Terminal 1 sees 32,200 passengers daily from fliers on airlines Frontier, Southwest, American and Delta during peak travel months.

“We will follow the direction of the Board of Supervisors legislation if passed, and incorporate this into the design and construction of Terminal 1, which opens in phases starting mid-2019,” SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said Wednesday.

The Los Angeles International Airport has a terminal named after Los Angeles’ 38th and only Black mayor, Tom Bradley, who died in 1998.

If approved by the committee, the full board would vote on the legislation on April 3.

Mayor Mark Farrell is in support of the terminal renaming and is open to other naming honors there.

“I fully support the renaming of San Francisco International Airport Terminal 1 to honor Harvey Milk, just as I did while serving as Supervisor,” Farrell said. “And if there is public support to consider other renamings for notable San Franciscans like the late Mayor Ed Lee or Senator Feinstein, then I want the Airport Commission to re-engage its committee process.”

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