Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

US Navy set to name ship after gay icon Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk in his Navy days. (Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historic Task Force San Diego)

Harvey Milk in his Navy days. (Photo: Courtesy GLBT Historic Task Force San Diego)

The U.S. Navy is set to name a ship after gay icon Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco supervisor who was killed within his first year in office.

According to a report by USNI News, it obtained a Congressional notification dated July 14, and signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, that indicates he intends to name a planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler the USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO-206).

The ship is the second of the John Lewis-class oilers being built by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, noted the news site. A Navy spokesman told USNI that Mabus’s office would not comment until the official naming announcement was made.

According to USNI’s report, Mabus has said he will name the ships in the John Lewis-class – which is named after civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) – after civil rights leaders. Other ships are expected to be named in honor of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, women’s right activist Lucy Stone, and abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

LGBT leaders in San Diego first proposed the idea of naming a naval ship in honor of Milk, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in 2012. San Francisco leaders endorsed the proposal, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who holds the board seat considered to be Milk’s.

But others perceived it as ill-conceived, such as Milk photographer and close friend Dan Nicoletta. Queer economic justice activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca also panned the proposal as “inappropriate and insensitive” in a statement at the time.

Reacting to the report from USNI News, the American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families, released a statement today (Thursday, July 28) praising the Milk naval ship naming.

“Harvey Milk is an American hero and an icon for LGBT equality, and it’s phenomenal that the U.S. Navy is going to honor his legacy by naming a ship after him,” stated AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Harvey Milk’s incredible leadership in the face of adversity continues to inspire all of us in our ongoing fight for full LGBT equality. By breaking down barriers and fighting for the dignity and worth of all Americans, he left behind an example for all of us in his service to our nation, both in and out of uniform.”

Wiener, in his own statement to the news, said it was “an incredible day” for not only the LGBT community but also the country.

“As a gay man and a San Franciscan, I’m incredibly proud that the Navy is honoring Harvey Milk – and the entire LGBT community – by naming a ship after him. This momentous decision sends a powerful message around the world about who we are as a country and the values we hold,” stated Wiener. “When Harvey Milk served in the military, he couldn’t tell anyone who he truly was. Now our country is telling the men and women who serve, and the entire world, that we honor and support people for who they are. Harvey Milk’s strength continues to reverberate throughout our city, our country, and the world.”

Milk served in the U.S. Navy and was on active duty during the Korean War. He trained as a deep-sea diver, and advanced to the rank of chief petty officer on the U.S.S. Kittiwake, according to a bio created by the organizers of the campaign to push for a USS Harvey Milk Navy vessel.

Commissioned an ensign in late 1953, Milk was transferred to Naval Station at San Diego to serve as a diving instructor. In 1955, he was discharged from the Navy at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, states the bio.

“Milk was proud of his military service, and wore a brass belt buckle bearing his Navy diver’s insignia until the day he died,” states the bio.

In the early 1970s Milk moved to San Francisco’s Castro district where he opened a camera shop and penned a political column for the B.A.R. After several failed attempts, Milk became the city’s – and state’s – first gay person to win elective office in 1977.

Tragically, a year later former disgruntled Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone inside City Hall. USNI reported that Milk was wearing his U.S. Navy Master Diver belt buckle when he was shot.

Milk’s death turned him into an international LGBT icon. He has been honored in numerous ways over the years, with parks, schools, and streets named after him.

President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. And in 2014 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of Milk, the first time it had done so specifically to celebrate the contributions of an LGBT person.

And last night, in his remarks accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination to be its vice presidential candidate, former Virginia Governor and now U.S. Senator Tim Kaine referred to Milk toward the end of his speech among a litany of American political figures.

“Thomas declared all men equal, and Abigail remembered the women. Woodrow brokered peace, and Eleanor broke down barriers. Jack told us to ask, and Lyndon answered the call. Martin had a dream, Cesar y Dolores said si se puede and Harvey gave his life,” said Kaine. “Bill bridged a century, and Barack gave us hope. And now Hillary is ready. Ready to fight, ready to win, ready to lead.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, July 28, 2016 @ 12:11 pm PST
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