03/03/2009 at 05:00 PM EST
Fresh from his Best Actor Oscar win for portraying slain gay-rights leader Harvey Milk, Sean Penn joined politicians and activists in California on Tuesday to push for a day to honor the man he portrayed in Milk
Harvey Milk Day on May 22 would not be a holiday, but teachers would recall how the San Francisco supervisor fought for equal rights
before his assassination more than 30 years ago.
"It is important that we remember Harvey Milk for his spirit, his courage and his activism," Penn, dressed in black, told reporters gathered in San Francisco's Tosca Café, which shares the name of Milk's favorite opera. "Harvey taught us the importance of standing up for what you believe in. He showed us the value of never giving up, and he proved that action creates change."
Penn was joined by politicians and civil rights leaders, including gay-rights activist Cleve Jones (played in Milk
by Emile Hirsch). He said that so many have been inspired by the story since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar proposal by state Sen. Mark Leno last September that the governor is unlikely to reject the measure a second time.