Debra Walker is not Harvey Milk, nor did the longtime lesbian activist ever know Harvey Milk (she moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s, after the LGBT movement icon’s murder). But the candidate for District 6 supervisor and former Milk Club president is proudly carrying his mantle, using painted pictures of the landmark lawmaker as part of her campaign’s imagery.

These so-called “Milk Heads” — created by Walker herself, a painter by trade — have been making frequent appearances around San Francisco for the past five years, since she first painted them for the Milk March, Walker said Thursday.

They’ve been on TV, they’ve been at rallies, most recently at the August rally celebrating the overturning of Proposition 8. Walker’s campaign also sports accompanying “Debra Heads,” also painted by Walker (she also did heads for David Campos’s successful bid for supervisor in 2008).

Walker, an early supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2008, is a former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT club, whose endorsement she has in the race to succeed Chris Daly as D6 supervisor.

But she doesn’t have the support of living Milks: Stuart Milk, Harvey’s LGBT nephew, has endorsed Human Rights Commission president Theresa Sparks, who would be the first transgendered elected official in San Francisco history (transgendered people have served as mayors in England and members of Parliament in New Zealand).

Now, Milk is an icon, and icons are often co-opted. But does anyone have a right to use Milk? Does anyone have a right to demand someone not use his visage?

Not really, according to Scott Wiener, a deputy city attorney running for supervisor in District 8, which includes the Castro.

“Harvey Milk belongs to the entire LGBT community,” he told The Appeal. “No particular candidate or political club is exclusively entitled to his memory, and what he stood for. He belongs to all of us.”

That doesn’t mean everyone is trotting out Milk’s image for the furthering of their political careers. Nobody’s doing it in District 8 — where it would probably be pointless, where every leading candidate is LGBT (though Rafael Mandelman’s signage bears a small resemblance to Milk’s) — and in District 6, the one person who knew Milk isn’t doing it. And that man, South of Market activist Jim Meko, isn’t impressed.

“It’s rather coarse the way some are appropriating Harvey’s image,” said Meko, who did not name names.

Meko, a fixture in South of Market’s gay liberation, leather and community planning (guess which hobby goes over best at parties) scenes for three decades, says that he knew Milk on a “social/sexual basis,” and “the current crop of activists who claim a connection to Harvey give themselves too much credit,” he said.

“I’m not even sure Harvey would like them.”

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  • Greg Dewar

    I always wondered about that….especially since there’s a bar called “Harvey’s ” on Castro and wondered if it was just a coincidence that the owner had the same first name or what.

    Then there’s the dueling Democratic clubs, Harvey Milk Democrats vs. Alice Toklas Democrats….

  • Greg Dewar

    I always wondered about that….especially since there’s a bar called “Harvey’s ” on Castro and wondered if it was just a coincidence that the owner had the same first name or what.

    Then there’s the dueling Democratic clubs, Harvey Milk Democrats vs. Alice Toklas Democrats….

  • generic

    Oh. Right.

    The campaign of a

    1) Gay
    2) Progressive
    3) Supervisorial candidate

    in

    4) San Francisco

    has absolutely nothing in common with Harvey Milk?

    I suppose people fighting for the rights of Hispanic farm workers in Modesto need to be careful about appropriating Caesar Chavez’s image, too.

    Because if there’s one thing Milk was known for, it was his subtlety in matters political.

    Please.

  • generic

    Oh. Right.

    The campaign of a

    1) Gay
    2) Progressive
    3) Supervisorial candidate

    in

    4) San Francisco

    has absolutely nothing in common with Harvey Milk?

    I suppose people fighting for the rights of Hispanic farm workers in Modesto need to be careful about appropriating Caesar Chavez’s image, too.

    Because if there’s one thing Milk was known for, it was his subtlety in matters political.

    Please.

  • DT

    Harvey’s used to be the Elephant Walk.

    There are too many corporations forming for political purposes and whose names are designed to confuse the voters. We must put this evil Pandora back in her box. No different than selling snake oil off the back of a cart.

    Politicians are all for sale to the highest bidders. I do hope the family controls all likenesses, images, homonyms, and promotions, especially the dishonest ones.

    Remember to pinch your nose when you vote this November. Our choices, as usual, are bad and worse.

  • DT

    Harvey’s used to be the Elephant Walk.

    There are too many corporations forming for political purposes and whose names are designed to confuse the voters. We must put this evil Pandora back in her box. No different than selling snake oil off the back of a cart.

    Politicians are all for sale to the highest bidders. I do hope the family controls all likenesses, images, homonyms, and promotions, especially the dishonest ones.

    Remember to pinch your nose when you vote this November. Our choices, as usual, are bad and worse.

  • sfbird

    These days (ie., at least the last 40 years), a political campaign functions exactly the same as a marketing campaign. So the question becomes, is it okay for a marketing campaign to appropriate the image of Harvey Milk for personal gain, even if they have no connection to him whatsoever? Unequivocally no. This is a cheap form of grandstanding. Debra Walker is essentially just trying to score political points on the shoulders of a giant. It seems sort of desperate and weird.

    And the “Hispanic farm workers in Modesto” analogy is just insulting. But if we were going to carry that analogy to it’s logical conclusion, it breaks down around the point that you consider that a) Cesar Chavez was actually “fighting for the rights of Hispanic farm workers” whereas b) Harvey Milk was not fighting to get some random person that he never met elected supervisor (in a very crowded electoral field) simply because they are gay or lesbian. Really? Is the justification for exploiting his image going to be…”Hey, I’m a Lesbian! And Milk was gay! So, like, vote for me!” Well…newsflash. This is San Francisco. Being LGBT isn’t that big of a deal. It’s quite normal, in fact.

    Anyone who thinks that’s what Milk was about, probably was not around when he was alive and can’t actually speak with any authority. Hell, anyone that cynical about his legacy probably hasn’t even seen the movie.

    No, it’s not okay for Debra Walker to use his image, just as it wouldn’t be okay for Coke or Pepsi to use it in an ad campaign for whatever product they’re targeting at the gay demographic these days. I call bullshit.

  • sfbird

    These days (ie., at least the last 40 years), a political campaign functions exactly the same as a marketing campaign. So the question becomes, is it okay for a marketing campaign to appropriate the image of Harvey Milk for personal gain, even if they have no connection to him whatsoever? Unequivocally no. This is a cheap form of grandstanding. Debra Walker is essentially just trying to score political points on the shoulders of a giant. It seems sort of desperate and weird.

    And the “Hispanic farm workers in Modesto” analogy is just insulting. But if we were going to carry that analogy to it’s logical conclusion, it breaks down around the point that you consider that a) Cesar Chavez was actually “fighting for the rights of Hispanic farm workers” whereas b) Harvey Milk was not fighting to get some random person that he never met elected supervisor (in a very crowded electoral field) simply because they are gay or lesbian. Really? Is the justification for exploiting his image going to be…”Hey, I’m a Lesbian! And Milk was gay! So, like, vote for me!” Well…newsflash. This is San Francisco. Being LGBT isn’t that big of a deal. It’s quite normal, in fact.

    Anyone who thinks that’s what Milk was about, probably was not around when he was alive and can’t actually speak with any authority. Hell, anyone that cynical about his legacy probably hasn’t even seen the movie.

    No, it’s not okay for Debra Walker to use his image, just as it wouldn’t be okay for Coke or Pepsi to use it in an ad campaign for whatever product they’re targeting at the gay demographic these days. I call bullshit.

  • behappy

    Relax everyone—it’s only a paper head….geesh!!!! Much more important things in the world to dissent over……

    Debra Walker cares about people, and has proven it for many years of service in San Francisco.

    We all need to get over our personality problems, and support those who truly do make a difference, regardless of our petty reactions to them. And Debra Walker has, and will continue to, make a positive difference for the people of San Francisco

    Harvey Milk had a lot more class than to condemn someone for using his image for Progressive campaign purposes. I have seen “the movie”, lived in San Francisco when he was murdered, and can bet that he would/does enjoy seeing the Debra Walker created image of him being carried around the City..

  • behappy

    Relax everyone—it’s only a paper head….geesh!!!! Much more important things in the world to dissent over……

    Debra Walker cares about people, and has proven it for many years of service in San Francisco.

    We all need to get over our personality problems, and support those who truly do make a difference, regardless of our petty reactions to them. And Debra Walker has, and will continue to, make a positive difference for the people of San Francisco

    Harvey Milk had a lot more class than to condemn someone for using his image for Progressive campaign purposes. I have seen “the movie”, lived in San Francisco when he was murdered, and can bet that he would/does enjoy seeing the Debra Walker created image of him being carried around the City..