The White House hosted an unusual first-day ceremony for the Harvey Milk commemorative forever stamp issued May 22.
Unlike most recent White House stamp ceremonies, this one drew no president or first lady.
It was an invitation-only event with about 400 guests in the Old Executive office building. The stamp dedication ran for almost two hours and was followed by a closed reception for the guests.
Stamp collectors would have been disappointed because the new stamps were not on sale at the event, and first-day cancels were not available. Ceremony programs were handed out at the event, however.
There was no autograph line for the 10 speakers who hailed the stamp’s release as yet another major breakthrough for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
On what would have been Milk’s 84th birthday, President Obama flew to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. There he talked about the value of foreigners visiting the United States.
Not that Obama’s absence troubled the guests.
They cheered vigorously when Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, praised the president for taking numerous steps that have boosted the rights of the LGBT community.
A number of senior Congressional Democrats did attend, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders described the event as “a collaboration between the USPS, White House and the Milk foundation.”
“We were not permitted to sell stamps on the grounds of the White House as per White House policy,” he said.
“As we were not permitted to conduct stamp sales, the issue of providing on-site cancellations wasn’t necessary.”
The public, the Postal Service had noted in a news release, was invited to attend a public ceremony six days later dedicating the stamp at San Francisco City Hall May 28.
A member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, Milk became an icon after being killed along with Mayor George Moscone on Nov. 27, 1978.
Milk was one of the country’s first openly gay public officials and is now one of the first to be honored on a U.S. stamp.
The Washington event was largely arranged by the Harvey Milk Foundation, a San Francisco group co-founded by his nephew, which attempts to broaden his legacy.
“My uncle, Harvey Milk, never set out to have a postage stamp named for him,” Stuart Milk told the audience. “He did not set out to be a martyr.”
But he did believe that it was important for gay people to “come out.”
“His message was authenticity,” Milk said, noting that is the message the Milk Foundation is now carrying to an international audience.
“Uncle Harvey had a dream he knew he would not physically see come true,” he said, citing death threats Milk received after his election.
The stamp features a black and white photo of Milk taken in 1977 by Daniel Nicoletta of Grant’s Pass, Ore., in front of Milk’s Castro street camera store in San Francisco.
Nicoletta was also present at the ceremony.
It was a photo that some said would never work on a stamp because in full frame it shows Milk’s tie fluttering wildly. But as cropped by the Postal Service, the tie looks in place.
What would Milk think of the stamp? Sen. Baldwin said he wouldn’t like it at all.
But Anne Kronenberg, the other co-founder of the Milk Foundation, said the opposite.
“He would be so proud he would have it blown up three times as big,” she said, pointing to the enlarged illustration of the stamp that had just been unveiled on the stage.
Several news outlets in San Francisco reported lines outside some post offices in the city when the Milk stamps went on sale.