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Christine Kehoe, Jerry Sanders honored at fourth annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast

SAN DIEGO – Gay and straight, more than 1,100 San Diegans who support LGBT equality packed a bayfront ballroom on Friday morning for the fourth annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast.

The sold-out breakfast at the San Diego Bayfront Hilton annually brings together a rainbow collection of San Diegans who support equality and justice in celebration of the life and work of LGBT civil-rights icon Harvey Milk.

The crowd loudly applauded gay and lesbian politicians in the San Diego area who follow in footsteps of Harvey Milk, who was the first gay man elected to public office in California. They included current office-holders state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Assemblymember Toni Atkins, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego City Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Todd Gloria, San Diego school board member Kevin Beiser and Solana Beach Councilmember Dave Roberts.

Two beloved San Diego leaders who have inspired the community in the tradition of Harvey Milk were honored during the breakfast.

California state Sen. Christine Kehoe was presented with the Harvey Milk Lifetime Leadership Award and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders was given the Harvey Milk Equality Award. Kehoe and Sanders have been role models in the ongoing struggle for LGBT equality and justice.

Kehoe was hailed as San Diego's version of Harvey Milk. After years of community activism, she was elected in 1993 to represent San Diego City Council District Three, becoming the first openly gay elected official in America’s Finest City. She went on to serve in the state Assembly, where she was elected Speaker pro tempore – only the second woman to hold that position.

She is the senior most elected LGBT official from San Diego. Currently, she is serving her second term in the state Senate and will be termed out of state service in November.

State Assemblymember Toni Atkins introduced Kehoe, saying that Kehoe was her longtime friend and mentor.

Kehoe noted the many accomplishments toward achieving full equality, but noted the long road ahead in dealing with critical issues such as teen bullying and suicide as well as drug and alcohol abuse in our community.

She said the AIDS crisis in the 1980s galvanized our community, and that the creation of City Council districts allowed for the LGBT community to elect her to office as the first lesbian to serve on the City Council.

"It has been an amazing ride, and I thank you so much," Kehoe said. She also saluted her other half for 27 years of patience and encouragement.

Mayor Sanders made international headlines a few years ago when he called a news conference to announce that he had had a change of heart and would be supporting the rights of gay and lesbians couples to wed. He said he had only to look at his lesbian daughter and her partner for inspiration.

On Sept. 19, 2007, Mayor Sanders, a Republican, took a courageous stand in opposition to his party and publicly announced that his views had changed. He then signed a City Council resolution challenging California's same-sex marriage ban. In an emotional speech, Sanders explained that he had decided “to do what I think is right and to take a stand on behalf of equality and social justice.”

Since then he has been a leading advocate in the fight for marriage equality, testifying in favor of same-sex marriage in Perry v. Schwarzenegger in 2010 and currently serving as a national co-chair of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

Sanders brought his entire family on stage, and his daughter Lisa Sanders introduced him.

The mayor saluted the large audience for their courage to come out and be out to their families, co-workers and friends. He said this was so important to changing hearts and minds.

"I realized we all, gay or straight, share the same hopes and dreams," Sanders said.

The 2012 Harvey Milk Youth Leadership Award went to Rebeca Arellano and Haileigh Adams. On Oct. 28, 2011, Rebeca Arellano was named Patrick Henry High School’s first female homecoming king. The next day, her girlfriend Haileigh Adams was named homecoming queen, making the two the first lesbian couple in the U.S. crowned homecoming king and queen.

Their story went viral on the Internet.

The response to the couple’s win was mainly positive, their school, family and friends supportive. One student at Patrick Henry High even noted, “It makes me think that you can be more open and stuff, the way the school’s reacting to it. … It makes you more comfortable in the school and in your environment.”

The couple did not address the audience, but received a standing ovation.

The 2012 Harvey Milk Youth Essay Award was handed out to Andrew Alvarado. A senior at Hilltop High School, Alvarado has been accepted to the University of California Berkeley, where he says he plans to study microbiology and immunology with the dream of becoming an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Andrew read his touching essay to the crowd, earning thunderous applause.

In his essay Andrew wrote, “To me, hope is the force that propels us to wake up in the morning; the force that spurs us to do great things; the force that reassures us in our darkest time. In a twist of the old idiom, where there is hope, there is life and Harvey Milk understood that. He understood that hope is a driving force in the world.”

The Met Celebration Choir and In aChord closed the event with a rousing edition of "Imagine" as a slide show took a look at scenes from San Diego's vibrant LGBT community.

About Harvey Milk

When he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk (1930-1978) became one of the first openly gay men to be elected to public office in the United States. On election night, Harvey Milk reminded his supporters: “This is not my victory – it's yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight.” He was assassinated (along with Mayor George Moscone) on Nov. 27, 1978, only eleven months after taking office. Although he did not live to see his dreams fulfilled, the example of his life and his leadership has made him an important national symbol for the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression.