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.”