The USNS Harvey Milk was launched at a ceremony in San Diego
Harvey Milk was forced out of the US Navy for being gay but on Saturday the armed forces christened a new ship named after the slain LGBTQ+ rights icon.
The ship, a John Lewis-class replenishment oiler, was named the USNS Harvey Milk at a ceremony in San Diego Bay, California attended by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and numerous naval and government officials, including Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.
“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation,” said Del Toro ahead of the event. “There is no doubt that the future sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy.”
Built by General Dynamics NASSCO, the USNS Harvey Milk will provide fuel replenishment to other Navy ships at sea.
Paula Neira, a navy veteran and the Clinical Program Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, christened the ship by breaking a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow in a time-honoured Navy tradition.
The ship then slid into the water accompanied by balloons, streamers and the lively sound of a naval band.
Milk served in the Navy during the Korean War as a diving officer aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake. He later served as a driving instructor at the San Diego Naval Base.
His naval career ended in 1955 with an ‘other than honourable’ discharge because of his sexuality. Lesbian and gay service members were not allowed to openly serve in the US military until September 2011.
Milk is best known as an LGBTQ activist and the first openly gay American politician to be elected into office. While serving as a Member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he was assassinated in 1978 at the age of 48 by a disgruntled city official.
In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. Harvey Milk Day is marked annually in California and an Oscar-winning film about Milk’s life, starring Sean Penn, was released in 2008.
“Harvey was a beacon of hope not just for LGBTQ people, but all Americans,” said Todd Gloria, the first openly gay mayor of San Diego. “Now, this ship will serve as a symbol of hope for the world to see.”