Sixty-six years after Harvey Milk was discharged from the Navy for being gay, the US Navy has named its newest ship after the slain LGBTQI civil rights icon. 

The  U.S.N.S Harvey Milk was launched from its shipyard in San Diego on Saturday.  Former Navy officer Paula M. Neira, now the Clinical Program Director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, broke  the traditional bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow, just  before it slid into the waters of San Diego Bay.  

Amongst the other dignitaries on hand to witness the launch of the  227-metre refuelling vessel were Carlos Del Toro, the Secretary of the Navy, and Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew, and the co founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. 

The honour bestowed on Milk, the first out gay elected official in the history of California, comes 66 years after he was  discharged from the Navy, rather than face a court-martial for being  gay. 

 Honour Marks New Era for LGBTQI Service People 

Milk had enlisted in the US Navy in 1951 and worked as a diving  instructor in San Diego. A lieutenant junior grade, Milk served in the Navy during the Korean War. He was given  an “other than honourable” discharge and relieved from service on  February 7, 1955, following two weeks of interrogations about his  sex life.  

An estimated 100,000 US military veterans have been given other  than honourable (OTH) discharges due to their sexual orientation,  14,000 of whom received their discharges during the 17 years the  “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy was in effect. 

”When the Harvey Milk sails, she will send a very strong message  both domestically and around the globe to everybody that believes  in freedom and justice and liberty, that there is a place for you in this  family,” said Neira, who co-sponsored the vessel, along with  Senator Dianne Feinstein, who served with Milk on San Francisco’s  Board of Supervisors. 

“These ships will inspire our sailors, our country to express our  values of honour, courage and commitment,” Neira said. 

Let’s Teach His Story, Says Milk’s Nephew

Milk’s nephew Stuart had rejected the Navy’s offer to change his uncle’s discharge status  to an honourable discharge, saying he did so “to keep the memory  of how we did not honour everyone in this very honourable service.” 

“We have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going  backwards and repeating it,” Stuart said at the ceremony. 

“Uncle Harvey did not set out to have a ship, school or park named  after him,” Milk said. “He did have a dream, however. Yes, Uncle  Harvey was forced to resign because he was gay. Let’s teach his  story, teach about our flaws so we don’t go backward.” 

“Harvey actually dreamed of today. His dream gave him courage.  Harvey left this world seeing all of us fulfill our potential and making  his dream a reality,” said Stuart. 

Navy Is A “Welcoming Community” 

Del Toro acknowledged that Harvey Milk was forced to “mask that  very important part of his life,” during his time in the Navy, and  called Milk an example “for all of our sailors and Marines to be  bold… have strong courage of convictions, always do the right  thing.”  

“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 told the invited  guests. 

“I think it sends a message to all of our LGBT community and to all  Americans that the Department of the Navy is a very welcoming  community for all Americans who want to serve our country in  uniform and civilians in the department as well too,” Del Toro said. 

Harvey Milk’s Legacy Lives On 

“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,” Del Toro, said in a statement,  prior to the ceremony. 

“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.” 

Todd Gloria, the first out LGBTQ+ mayor of San Diego, was also  present at the ceremony and tweeted, “Harvey was a beacon of  hope not just for LGBTQ people, but all Americans. Now, this ship  will serve as a symbol of hope for the world to see.”

“This is a day many of us could never have dreamed of happening,”  Gloria said. 

The U.S.N.S Harvey Milk, is the second of six John Lewis class  refuelling vessels, each to be given the name of a US civil right leader, a move instituted in 2016 by Ray Mabus, then Secretary of  the Navy. In addition to Milk, the others to be so honoured include  Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy,  suffragist Lucy Stone and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. 

Secretary Del Toro said, “Ship names are important because they  express what we value as a Navy and as a nation and  communicate those values around the globe in every port of call.” 

The Mayor Of Castro Street

Harvey Milk, made history as the first out LGBTQ+ person to  become an elected official in California.

Milk was elected to serve  on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was  assassinated, along with Mayor George Moscone inside San Francisco City Hall in 1978, by a disgruntled political opponent, Dan White.

Milk was 48 years old. He was awarded the Presidential  Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barack Obama. 

Milk, in response to the death threats he received in his time in  office, had said, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy  every closet door.”

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