US Navy launches ship named after LGBT+ rights pioneer Harvey Milk

USNS Harvey Milk launches after a ceremonial address

US Navy has officially christened and launched the USNS Harvey Milk, a ship named in honour of the trailblazing US politician and LGBT+ rights pioneer.

Milk became the first openly gay man in US history to be elected to public office when in 1977 he was elected to San Francisco’s board of city supervisors.

Tragically, a year later, he was assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had lost his job.

Milk is well known as an advocate for LGBT+ rights and visibility, but before he began his political career, in the 1950s, he also served in the US Navy.

He was a diving officer on a submarine rescue ship during the Korean War, eventually reaching the rank of junior grade lieutenant, but at the time LGBT+ people were not allowed to serve in the US armed forces in any capacity.

When Milk’s superiors caught him in a park that was popular with gay men, his sexuality immediately came into question, and he was forced out of the Navy in 1955.

The Navy began constructing the USNS Harvey Milk in November, 2019, and on Saturday (6 November), the replenishment oiler was finally unveiled.

The ship was christened by Paula Neira, a Navy veteran and the clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, who broke the traditional bottle of sparkling wine across the bow.

According to LGBTQ Nation, at the ceremony San Diego mayor Todd Gloria said: “Harvey was a beacon of hope not just for LGBT+ people, but all Americans. Now, this ship will serve as a symbol of hope for the world to see.”

Carlos Del Toro, secretary of the Navy, added: “For far too long, sailors like Lieutenant Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy.

“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 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 LGBT+ 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.”

Milk’s nephew, Stuart, gave the principal address at the ceremony, and said: “We have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards and repeating it… Today, we are celebrating something much bigger than tolerance… [The] Navy not only recognises, but honours those [other LGBT+ servicemembers]… so this Navy ship sends an important message to the world.”

The USNS Harvey Milk is the second in a fleet of six ships named after civil and human rights leaders. As well as Milk, they include Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F Kennedy, suffragist Lucy Stone and representative John Lewis of Georgia.