The US Navy has launched a ship named after Harvey Milk, decades after the gay rights icon was forced out of service over his homosexuality in the 1950s.
The USNS Harvey Milk was christened at the weekend in San Diego, California. US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro joined Harvey’s nephew, Stuart Milk, at the ceremony.
Milk served as a diving officer and Lieutenant aboard the US Navy’s submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake during the Korean War in the 1950s.
But he was forced out of the service in 1955, following two weeks of interrogation about his sexual orientation.
Milk later became one of America’s first openly gay politicians. In 1977, he won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
However a year later, disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Milk was 48.
Gay sailors were ‘forced into the shadows, or forced out’
At the ceremony, US Navy Secretary Del Toro reflected on the Navy giving Harvey Milk an “other than honourable” discharge in the 1950s.
The US Navy estimates the service discharged as many as 100,000 veterans from military service because of their sexual orientation.
Today we christened the USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206)! This great ship honors #NavyDiver & #CivilRights activist Harvey Milk who was forced out of the service due to unfair policies. Because of him, today our #LGBTQ #Sailors & #Marines serve honorably as their genuine selves. pic.twitter.com/HvOgpmQAVL
— Office of the Secretary of the Navy (@SECNAV) November 6, 2021
He said it was wrong that the Navy forced Milk to “mask that very important part of his life” while serving.
“For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” he 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.
“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation.”
Navy veteran Paula Neira, who’s transgender, christened the USNS Harvey Milk by breaking a bottle of wine across the bow.
Harvey Milk wanted service members to serve authentically
In 2011, the Obama administration officially repealed the country’s long-standing ban on openly gay and lesbian service personnel.
Stuart Milk said his uncle dreamed of US service members being allowed “to serve with authenticity and not be forced to hide who they were and who they love.”
He said it was important his uncle’s discharge wasn’t reversed because “we have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards and repeating it.”
President Barack Obama also posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
The Obama administration first announced the plans to name a US Navy ship after Milk in 2016.
But some didn’t agree with the move, suggesting Milk would have disapproved of lending his name to a Navy ship, given his opposition to the Vietnam War.
The USNS Harvey Milk is one of six new US Navy ships named after iconic US civil rights leaders.
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