How an airport terminal at San Francisco International pays tribute to an LGBTQ+ pioneer

Jun 5, 2021

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There’s a long tradition of naming airports, airfields and terminals after figures throughout history.

The Harvey Milk Terminal 1 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which opened to the public in July 2019, is one such example and the first-ever airport terminal in the world named after a member of the LGBTQ+ community. On May 25, 2021, the next phase of the $2.4 billion terminal named after Milk was introduced.

Harvey Milk was a major pioneering civil rights activist and openly gay San Francisco city supervisor, before his tragic assassination in 1978. However, his legacy endures.

Before a flight home to New York, I got a chance to explore some of the new features — and dwell in a personal moment of LGBTQ+ history this Pride Month.

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(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The newest phase of the terminal includes seven new departure gates, capable of accommodating domestic or international flights. A passenger walkway, located post-security, now connects Harvey Milk Terminal 1 to the International Terminal.

From every angle, the terminal is stunning. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the terminal with an abundance of natural light — with amazing views of the tarmac and hills farther afield.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The terminal now also includes a new museum gallery featuring rotating exhibitions by SFO Museum. The first exhibition features flight attendant uniforms from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The crown jewel of the 25-gate facility at Harvey Milk Terminal 1 is the area that honors the life and legacy of the first openly gay elected official in the history of California with content from the exhibit Harvey Milk: Messenger of Hope.

Harvey Milk Terminal’s latest iteration comes just in time for Pride Month in June, a time to celebrate and uplift members of the LGBTQ+ community. It commemorates the personal accomplishments and sacrifices of trailblazing individuals who fought — and continue to fight — for full equality.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

In 1977, Harvey Milk won the election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. His acceptance “hope” speech is regarded as a pivotal moment of LGBTQ+ history.

The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up.

- Harvey Milk


The exhibit features historic images that provide a glimpse into Milk’s life, including his activism and ascendance as a political leader in San Francisco, his tragic assassination and his legacy of advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion that lives on today.

(Photo courtesy of San Francisco International Airport)

Related: Pride on points: How to use points and miles to celebrate Pride in 6 US cities this year

This display is featured on a new temporary construction wall located immediately after the security checkpoint but will be moved to a permanent location once construction of the terminal completes by spring 2024.

In the past, SFO has taken other LGBTQ+ advocacy measures including becoming a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Organization.

In a written press release, Airport Director Ivar C. Satero said, “With this newest addition, we’re taking the airport experience at SFO to a whole new level, using this facility to share the story of Harvey Milk to an even broader audience of global travelers.”

(Photo by Ana Fernandez/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As I stared at the images before me, I understood Harvey Milk’s monumental impact not only on the city of San Francisco but also on the greater LGBTQ+ community. Now, travelers all around the world can reflect on Milk’s everlasting legacy as they embark on a journey of their own.

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy. 

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