SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City could soon have a street named after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk, an idea that reflects the progressive bent of the city that’s home to the Mormon church and capital of a conservative state.
City officials say they have been working with LGBT leaders on the initiative, which would place Harvey Milk Boulevard near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.
If approved, the name would go on 900 South, about a mile and half from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008, after the Mormon church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California.
But Salt Lake City also has supported an active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
An annual gay pride parade is the second largest in the state — second only to a yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers. When a judge overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban in December 2013, Mayor Ralph Becker presided over unions of same-sex couples who flocked to wed in the hours after the ruling.
“We’ve had so many tremendous victories this year alone, and I think Harvey really set the tone for the LGBT movement — how to be successful and organize us politically,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.
Williams said he first sat down with Becker more than a year ago. The idea could come before the City Council before the end of the year, said Councilman Stan Penfold, the first openly gay council member.
“My hope is that we can send a message as a city that we acknowledge that kind of movement,” Penfold said. They are still working on what part of the street will bear Milk’s name, he said.
Milk became one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1977. His uncompromising calls for gays to come out of the closet inspired a generation of activists, but he was assassinated at City Hall along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a disgruntled former city supervisor in 1978.
The activist’s life was memorialized in the Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Milk,” and he’s also been honored with a commemorative stamp and a posthumous Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The San Diego City Council approved naming a street for Milk in 2012, something officials said was a first.
“Harvey is a true icon for the LGBT community. He set the standard for coalition building and collaborative leadership,” Williams said. “He is our Martin Luther King Jr.”
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this story.