Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn joined state Sen. Mark Leno in San Francisco Tuesday to announce the reintroduction of a bill to establish a statewide day honoring slain former city supervisor and gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk.
Penn won an Oscar last month for his portrayal of Milk, the Castro District supervisor and first openly gay elected official of any large city in the country, who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White in 1978.
SB 572 is an effort to have Milk's May 22 birthday proclaimed a statewide "day of special significance" for public schools.
Penn said he feels it is "essential...that we honor him in this way."
Leno and Penn spoke with reporters at the Tosca Cafe in North Beach along with several local political leaders, including state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Supervisor David Campos, who, like Leno, are openly gay.
"It's important because too many folks don't know what Harvey's life really meant," Leno said.
Leno described the hostile climate that existed for homosexuals at the time Milk assumed office, including laws prohibiting homosexual relations, as well as employment and housing discrimination. He praised Milk's bravery for not only openly declaring his own sexual orientation, but also for arguing that having other gays do the same would ultimately decrease discrimination.
"That was a significant act of courage, and leadership and vision," Leno said.
Leno said Milk not only worked on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but also for local neighborhoods and against "entrenched public interests."
"He literally gave his life so that I and my fellow elected officials here today could hold public office," Leno said.
Leno stressed that the bill -- similar to another bill Leno authored last year that was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- if passed, would not cost the state any money and would not require state workers and school employees to take the day off from work.
The bill cites other days already designated by the state as having special significance, including a Day of the Teacher on the second Wednesday in May, John Muir Day on April 21, and California Poppy Day on April 6.
"This will impose nothing on any classroom, on any teacher, on any school district," Leno said.
Schwarzenegger stated last year after his veto that Milk's contributions "should continue to be recognized at the local level by those who were most impacted by his contributions."
But Leno argued today that the political and cultural climate may have shifted, with a continued effort to overturn Proposition 8 and the unexpected success and notoriety of the movie.
"If there's one thing Arnold Schwarzenegger understands, it's box office," Leno said. "And Harvey Milk now has box office."
Leno said the bill will begin working its way through state committees, and could reach the governor's desk by late August.
Penn said he feels confident Schwarzenegger would sign the bill.
"I trust that Gov. Schwarzenegger is an increasingly reasonable man, and that he understands that passing on prejudices...is poisonous to future generations," he said.
"The freedom that you pass on to others is the freedom that you experience in return," Penn said.
Rachel Cameron, a spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger, responded, saying, "The governor has not taken a position on this bill."