Columnists : Marylee Shrider

Friday, Mar 06 2009 07:26 PM

Marylee Shrider: Once again, Harvey Milk Day is a bad idea

Didn’t we just do this?

Wasn’t it a mere six months ago that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation designating Harvey Milk’s birthday a day of “special significance in California’s public schools?

Indeed it was, yet the bill has risen once more, buoyed by a gold statuette and a lawmaker determined to harangue California voters into submission.

The last bill — AB 2567 — was to have established May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in honor of the San Francisco supervisor and gay activist who was gunned down in 1978. The bill would have designated the date as a day where teachers would be “encouraged” to conduct “suitable commemorative exercises.”

Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure in September. The bill’s author, Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, introduced a nearly identical bill this week in an attempt to capitalize on the best-actor Oscar win for Sean Penn, who portrayed Milk in the film of the same name. In a news conference Thursday, Penn and Leno told reporters they were confident

Schwarzenegger will pass the bill this time around.

“If there’s one thing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger understands, it’s box office, and Harvey Milk now has box office,” Leno said.

I gather, by Leno’s comment, he expects California parents to suddenly shake off their convictions and demand that Schwarzenegger approve the new version of the bill, now that folks have seen the film and know the truth, sort of.

I’ve got news for Leno. If “box office” is the measure by which the governor decides to veto or not to veto, then Harvey Milk Day is going down for a second time.

The film “Milk” may be a critical success, but movie goers aren’t exactly breaking down doors to get in. Released in November, the film’s domestic take thus far is only about $30 million — not much of a profit for a film that cost $20 million to make.

If box office truly was a standard Schwarzenegger took seriously, he would surely take note of one of the top-grossing films so far this year. Just seven weeks after its January release, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a silly farce of a film, has already raked in $129.4 million.

Oscar material it ain’t, but it is age appropriate for young ones. Too bad we can’t say the same for Harvey Milk Day.

Leno did try to sugar-coat the bill’s intro a bit, saying the bill would urge — but not require — schools to conduct commemorative exercises. He was also quick to assure taxpayers the bill would “cost no money whatsoever.”

Well then, who’s supposed to plan, carry out and supervise these commemorative exercises — parent volunteers?

Should the bill pass, teachers would naturally whitewash the life and times of Harvey Milk (as some critics suggest the film has done), but may find defining such terms like “homosexual,” “bisexual” and “transgender” a bit of a stretch. But such issues are irrelevant to gay rights activists who are desperate to link the martyred Milk to the Proposition 8 debate now before the state Supreme Court.

A Harvey Milk Day in public school? It was a bad idea in September. It’s a bad idea now.

These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Reach her at 395-7474 or mshrider@bakersfield.com.

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