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The World’s First Airport Terminal Named for an LGBTQ Leader Opens in San Francisco

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A rendering of Harvey Milk Terminal 1’s Boarding Area B (BAB), which was designed by HKS, Woods Bagot, Austin-Webcor, ED2 International, and Kendall Associates

Courtesy of HKS

A rendering of Harvey Milk Terminal 1’s Boarding Area B (BAB), which was designed by HKS, Woods Bagot, Austin-Webcor, ED2 International, and Kendall Associates

A new terminal at San Francisco International Airport debuted honoring California’s first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk.

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Eponymous airports around the world regularly commemorate historic figures, from the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (named after the first African American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice) to the Paris–Charles de Gaulle Airport (dedicated to the army officer who led World War II’s French Resistance against Nazi Germany). None of them, however, has been named for prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer people.  

That is, until July 23, when San Francisco International Airport (SFO) opened the first section of its new terminal named after Harvey Milk. (The politician and equal rights activist made history as the first-ever openly gay elected official in California; he served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors for 11 months before his assassination in 1978.) While Milk’s name won’t be lent to the airport in its entirety, the SFO expansion—officially called Harvey Milk Terminal 1—does mark the world’s first airport terminal named for an LGBTQ leader.

The first phase of SFO’s new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 features Boarding Area B (BAB). The nine-gate area—which currently services Southwest Airlines and JetBlue passengers—includes free Wi-Fi, domestic and international gates, six food and beverage concessions (including Bay Area establishments such as Amy’s Organic Drive-Thru, Bun Mee, and the Little Chihuahua), plus a kids’ play area, yoga room, and pet relief area.

A rendering of the nine-gate Boarding Area B section of Harvey Milk Terminal 1, which serves domestic and international travelers.
The new terminal also features SFO’s first gender-neutral restrooms (in addition to women’s and men’s facilities), which is a fitting inclusion to honor the facility’s namesake LGBTQ activist.

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A 30-foot-tall, 380-foot-long wall in the terminal further commemorates Milk’s legacy with an exhibit titled Harvey Milk: Messenger of Hope. The display showcases a collection of 97 images that include archival photos, correspondence, and campaign materials sourced from San Francisco Public Library and GLBT Historical Society archives. According to SFO officials, the exhibit will expose travelers to “Milk’s activism and ascendance as a political leader in San Francisco, as well as his tragic assassination and a legacy fighting for diversity, equity, and inclusion that lives on today.”

“Harvey Milk Terminal 1 serves as a tribute to the life and legacy of a pioneering civil rights leader,” Airport director Ivar C. Satero said in a statement. “For millions of people around the world, SFO is the first impression of the San Francisco Bay Area. I hope travelers around the world are inspired by the story of Harvey Milk in the terminal at SFO that bears his name."

Construction on Harvey Milk Terminal 1 is being completed in phases. According to officials, 18 gates will be operational by March 2020, with the SFO terminal slated for completion by 2023. When finished, it will include 25 gates; two airline lounges and one common use lounge; 20 retail spaces; 14 food and beverage concessions; plus an SFO Museum exhibit and additional five site-specific art commissions by internationally renowned artists.

>> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to San Francisco

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