SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Navy ship named after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, who served four years in the Navy before being forced out, was christened and launched Saturday in San Diego Bay.
Replenishment oil slid down the way to the USNS Harvey Milk Shipyard after former Navy officer Paula M. Neira, the clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, smashed a champagne bottle at the bow.
Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro witnessed the traditional ceremony.
“The Secretary of the Navy needs to be here today, not only to rectify the mistakes of the past, but to inspire all of our LGBTQ community leaders who have served today in uniform and in the civilian workforce, and To let them know that we are committed to them in the future,” del Toro said.
Del Toro said that, like many others, Milk had to “mask that important part of his life” while serving in the Navy.
“For too long, sailors like Lieutenant Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse, kicked out of our beloved navy,” del Toro said. “This injustice is part of our Navy’s history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”
Milk was one of the first openly gay candidates elected to public office. He was serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 when Dan White, a former political aide, assassinated him and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.
In 2016, then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus decided that the six new oilmakers would be named after civil and human rights leaders. In addition to Milk, they include Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, suffragist Lucy Stone and Georgia Representative John Lewis.
Del Toro told Mabus, who attended the christening, that it was a courageous decision.
“Ship names are important because they express what we value as a navy and as a nation and communicate those values to the world in every port of call,” del Toro said.
Stuart Milk, co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, thanked Mabus for providing the family details of his uncle’s leave from the Navy.
“He has a less-than-honorable discharge. He was forced to resign because he was gay,” Stuart Milk said.
Although there is a process to withdraw such discharges, he said it was important for his late uncle not to do so “in order to remember how we did not honor everyone in this honorable service.”
The naval tradition of having a ship “sponsor” went to Neira and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, who were unable to attend.
Feinstein was at San Francisco City Hall when Milk and Moscone were shot and then made a surprise announcement of their deaths. In a letter read out at the ceremony, Feinstein said, the ship will “carry forward a rich legacy of civilian leadership.”
Co-sponsor Neera said, “When Harvey Milk departs, it will send a very strong message to everyone both domestically and around the world who believe in freedom and justice and liberty, that there is a place for you in this family.” “
General Dynamics NASSCO began construction of six Oilers in San Diego in 2018 under a $3.2 billion naval contract. The first ship in the class, John Lewis, was named this summer.