A Navy ship named after a gay politician slain in 1978 was christened in San Diego on Saturday.
The USNS Harvey Milk, a replenishment oiler, is named after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk and is part of a group of ships named for civil rights leaders, according to KSWB-TV.
Transgender activist Paula Neira led the formal christening ceremony.
“May God bless this ship and all who sail on her,” said Neira, a Navy veteran and clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.
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
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said his presence was part of society’s needed atonement, according to Fox News.
“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, according to Fox.
Milk had to “‘mask that very important part of his life’ while he served in the Navy,” he said.
Should the Navy have named a ship after Harvey Milk?
“For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” Del Toro continued. “That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”
Milk, who was a San Francisco council member and an openly gay leader, was killed in 1978 along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by Dan White, a former city council member.
Harvey Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, said his uncle’s story of being forced out of the Navy for being gay must be told and retold until no one forgets it.
“Uncle Harvey did not set out to have a ship, school or park named after him,” Stuart Milk said, according to KSWB. “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.”
Milk donated materials about his uncle to be put in the ship’s library.
“Harvey actually dreamed of today,” Stuart said. “His dream gave him courage. Harvey left this world seeing all of us fulfill our potential and making his dream a reality,”
A Navy ship named for slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, who served four years in the Navy before being forced out, has been launched in San Diego Bay. The ship “will carry a rich legacy of civic leadership,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. https://t.co/ogmITlDPo5
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 6, 2021
In 2016, then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus decided that six oilers being built would be named after those the Obama administration hailed as civil rights leaders, Fox reported.
In addition to Milk and former Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, whose ship was previously launched, ships will be named after Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, former Democratic Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York, and suffragist Lucy Stone.