Driving through Salt Lake City, Utah, visitors and residents alike will now see 20 blocks of road named after LGBT icon and activist, Harvey Milk.
The initiative was spearheaded by Equality Utah and the street was renamed in May.
“We were looking at the landscape of our city,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. “We had Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, we had Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks, and we thought Harvey needs to be here as well. He needs to take his place alongside these civil rights icons.”
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco — he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Later that year, he was killed by a former board member who went on a shooting rampage in City Hall. Prior to his term, he was dubbed “the Mayor of Castro Street,” the city’s gayborhood, for his activism and refusal to live as anyone but his authentic self.
Famously, Milk said, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
The project started nearly two years ago when Equality Utah approached then-Mayor Ralph Becker about renaming 900 South to Harvey Milk Boulevard in honor of the LGBT civil rights hero. He was in full support of the initiative, Williams said, as well as Councilman Stan Penfold, the city’s first openly gay council member. During the next election cycle, Derek Kitchen, who was the plaintiff in the fight for marriage equality in Utah, joined the council and was also in support. In January, Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who is openly gay, took office.
Really, the only troubles Equality Utah faced was the run-of-the-mill red tape of renaming a street. A few people voiced their opposition, stating that Harvey Milk wasn’t from Utah and it didn’t make sense to name a street after him. Williams countered that King, Chavez, and Parks are also not from the state, but their presence is important in the city.
When the council approved the measure, Equality Utah got to work and was able to raise $8,000 in about a week. With that, they were able to replace all the street signs and host a block party to celebrate. At the party, more than 2,000 people attended with speeches from the NAACP, the Utah Council of La Raza, and a performance by the Neon Trees front man Tyler Glenn, who calls Salt Lake City home and is a gay Mormon.
Equality Utah chose 900 South, which runs through the heart of Salt Lake City, because of its prominence and the fact that it runs through a large LGBT neighborhood. There, many businesses are owned by LGBT people, and the area is flourishing. Heading west on the boulevard is an up-and-coming neighborhood, which Williams hopes will grow as time passes.
Recently, the Homeless Youth Resource Center opened near 900 South and 400 West — with roughly 40 percent of homeless youth identifying as LGBT, it was even more reason to choose the road to be named in Milk’s honor.
“What we hope is that it becomes that beacon to young LGBT youth and to also marginalized teens and … that they begin to sort of learn about Harvey and know about his history and know about their history and that that gives them hope for the future,” Williams said.
For many people, Salt Lake City’s LGBT influence comes as a shock — the city is the capital of one of the most conservative states in the nation, but now is one of a handful of cities to have a street named after Harvey Milk. According to a Gallup Poll conducted last year, the city ranks seventh in the nation for its LGBT population.
“We are gayer than Los Angeles and we are gayer than Manhattan. We have a history of elected LGBT friendly mayors and council folks and this is a really progressive town. We love to deny stereotypes,” Williams said.