A bill to designate May 22nd as Harvey Milk Day has reached the desk of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Milk was a gay activist who was assassinated in 1978. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. During his 11 months in office he sponsored a gay rights bill and helped to defeat a proposition that would have seen openly gay and lesbian teachers sacked.

The bill has already passed the state’s house and senate, and if signed by Schwarzenegger, will pass into law as a special commemorative day to encourage schools to recognise the activist’s work.

However, the day would not be an official holiday.

Last September, Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill and said that Milk was not well-known enough. Since then, a film of the activist’s life won an Oscar and he was posthumously awarded the the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by president Barack Obama.

In August, Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver chose Milk as one of 13 inductees into the state’s Hall of Fame.

Last week, Equality California and senator Mark Leno delivered almost 40,000 petitions calling for the governor to sign the bill into law.

“Every day we hear from people who have been touched by Harvey Milk’s inspiring message of hope and his story of determination and sacrifice,” said Geoff Kors, Equality California executive director.

“A champion for the civil rights of all Californians, Milk’s remarkable legacy is still felt far beyond San Francisco, and this bill is an appropriate way to pay tribute to the invaluable contributions he made to our state and to our nation.”