US Navy launches new ship named after gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

The US Navy has launched a new ship named after gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

USNS Harvey Milk, the second ship in its class was launched in San Diego. The John Lewis-class ships will replace the current T-AO 187-class fleet replenishment oilers to provide underway fuel replenishment to Navy ships at sea. Fleet replenishment oilers are part of the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force. THE US Navy has order 20 of the vessels.   Suggestions that the ship would be named after Milk first arose in 2016.

The ship is named in honor of the late politician and civil and human rights activist, who served in the Navy during the Korean War as a diving officer. After his naval career, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California. Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978.

Speaking ahead of the launch the USA’s Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, said Milk continued to be an example of great leadership decades after his tragic death.

“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation. There is no doubt that the future Sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy.” Secretary Del Toro said.

As the ship was launched Del Torro said it was important that as the Secretary of the Navy he was present at the launch.

“The secretary of the Navy needed to be here today, not just to amend the wrongs of the past, but to give inspiration to all of our LGBTQ community leaders who served in the Navy, in uniform today and in the civilian workforce as well too, and to tell them that we’re committed to them in the future,” Del Toro said.

Del Torro acknowledged that when Milk was serving in the Navy he had to keep his sexuality a secret or risk being dismissed.

“For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” Del Toro said. “That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”

The USA removed it’s controversial ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ policy in 2011. The policy was instigated by President Bill Clinton, prior to this the armed forces had a zero-tolerance approach to homosexuality.

The new vessel slid down the shipyard ways after a bottle of champagne was smashed on the bow by former Navy officer Paula M. Neira.

Neira is the clinical program director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health. She served in the US Navy until 1991, when she left to undergo gender transition. Unable to serve in the military she pursued a career in nursing and worked as an E.R. nurse for 5 years before training as a lawyer. She was a leading proponent of repealing the USA’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.

The first six of the new class of vessels are all named after civil rights leaders including Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, suffragist Lucy Stone and long serving politician John Lewis of Georgia.

The San Diego Union-Tribune captured the moment.

OIP Staff

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