There won't be Harvey Milk Day at Kern high schools

There won't be Harvey Milk Day at Kern high schools
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- The first openly gay man to hold an elected office in California won't be honored on local high school campuses.

The Kern High School District Board of Trustees voted 3-1 Wednesday to not observe Harvey Milk Day on May 22.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Harvey Milk Day into law Oct. 12 last year.

Conservative trustee Ken Mettler raised the proposal earlier this month to not observe Harvey Milk Day. Both supporters and opponents showed up at the Wednesday morning special board meeting.

Several speakers told the board they don't think Milk is a good role model for students.

"I don't want my children or my grandchildren to have a special day when they will scrutinize on that day and look at the life of Harvey Milk, and look at this lifestyle," Rick Prevost told the board.

Prevost said Milk was being recognized for his lifestyle and not his achievements, noting Milk was in an elected office for only 11 months.

Milk was a leader in the gay rights movement who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year later, Milk played a prominent role in defeat of the so-called Briggs Initiative, a ballot proposition that would have prevented gays and lesbians from teaching in the state's public schools.

In November 1978, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by former supervisor Dan White, who had resigned his seat but wanted it back.

White was angry at Moscone for refusing his request and at Milk because he had been among those lobbying the mayor against reappointing White.

Several speakers at the school board meeting on Wednesday said Milk should be honored for his work on civil rights.

"I ask you to allow the students of this district to go forward with their planned celebrations of civil rights hero, Harvey Milk," Ariel Bustamante said.

The student said she had experienced harassment and discrimination, and recognition of Milk would send a positive message. A policy to ban Milk celebrations would send the wrong message.

"Voting for board member Mettler's proposal will only send a message that this board wants to create safe and accepting schools for only those students that happen to be heterosexual or not transgender," Bustamante said.

Another speaker questioned why Mettler raised the issue, when the new state law allows schools to hold Milk celebrations but does not require that.

"But wait, someone on the board running for the 32nd (State) Assembly seat brings this issue up now just before the election, it would look good to a tea party base," Carol Lair said.

Eyewitness News asked Mettler if that was his reason for proposing the policy.

"No," Mettler responded. "If you look at my history, I've been consistent on my stance on these social issues, everything from Christmas and Easter in our school system, (and) I was Kern County chairman for Prop 8 for traditional marriage."

Mettler complained politics were the basis for the state law allowing Milk Day celebrations.

"This is political correctness at the state level being mandated to us by Sacramento," Mettler complained, saying that's why the local policy was needed.

Trustee Chad Vegas agreed, but chairman Joel Heinrichs disagreed and said that was the reason he voted against Mettler's proposal.

"I'm going to oppose the motion," Heinrichs said. "I think we're basically bringing Sacramento's culture wars down here. I think it's a distraction, inappropriate."

"I'm going to support the motion, because Sacramento sends their culture wars to us," Vegas countered. "We didn't ask them to send it to us, they sent it to us, we're telling them, 'No.'"

Trustees Mettler, Bryan Batey and Chad Vegas voted in favor of Mettler's anti-Milk proposal. Bill Perry abstained and board president Joel Heinrichs voted against Mettler's proposal.

The policy is now part of the district's guidelines on ceremonies and observances.

"The Kern High School District will not conduct exercises commemorating Harvey Milk Day on May 22 of each year, nor encourage or require its schools or their staffs to conduct such exercises. 'Staffs' refers to all administrators, teachers, and other personnel working in KHSD schools," that section now reads.

Mettler said it's the right thing to do.

"I just don't think he's a good role model," Mettler said to one gay rights supporter after the meeting.

But, student Bustamante was disappointed.

"We're just asking for students to have an icon that they can look up to," Bustamante said. "To have somebody in the school that they can look up to, and relate to, so that they feel safe on campuses."

The Associated Press information was used in this report.