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Portland Leaders Rename Downtown Street For Harvey Milk

<p>San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk sits in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in San Francisco</p>

San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk sits in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in San Francisco

The Portland City Council has renamed part of a key downtown street after gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated in 1978.

City leaders voted Thursday to rename a 13-block stretch of Southwest Stark Street after Milk. They say the change sends a message to the world about what Portland represents.

"Harvey Milk, I think, is one of the most inspirational people not just to the LGTBQ-plus community, but to the nation as a whole," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "It sends a signal that we are an open and welcoming and inclusive community."

Supporters of the change noted that Southwest Stark was once the heart of Portland's gay community. They collected more than 2,500 signatures to begin the renaming process.

Previous efforts to rename streets in Portland have come with a great deal of political controversy. But the Milk effort was, comparatively speaking, fast, easy and noncontroversial.

During the signature-gathering effort, the only real opposition came from people who wondered why Portland didn't recognize a gay rights pioneer from Oregon.

To an extent, that decision was dictated by city renaming rules, which require honorees to be household names and also deceased for at least five years.

Organizers of the renaming said they hoped to find other ways to honor lesser-known figures in the gay rights movement who are from Oregon or did the bulk of their work here.

Milk helped successfully kill California’s Proposition 6, which would have barred gay people from working as school teachers, and helped pass a San Francisco city ordinance ensuring equal rights for gays and lesbians. He was also a champion for the notion that being out and proud is the best way to overcome bigotry.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Anna Griffin