Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people couldn’t serve openly in the U.S. military less than a decade ago, and now there will be a ship named after one of the most notable queer leaders in U.S. history.
Construction of the USNS Harvey Milk began last week, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the fleet oiler was named after slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who served as a naval dive officer in San Diego.
One of the attendees at the ship’s naming ceremony was Stuart Milk, the civil rights icon’s nephew, and he said the vessel serves a valuable symbolic purpose. He said that the ship naming sends a global message of inclusion that is more powerful than simply saying “We’ll tolerate everyone”. It says that we celebrate everyone.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California that spoke often of the value of out individuals serving in positions of leadership. Milk gave a very strong speech back in 1978, when he spoke of how having allies in office was no longer enough. He said that a friend has never gone through what is known as ‘coming out’, and he noted that he could never forget what it was like coming out and having nobody to look up toward. He said that he remembered the lack of hope, a lack that his friends couldn’t fulfill it.
Milk couldn’t serve in the Navy openly and he was forced to resign his commission when he was caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men in the 1950s. The Navy has now delivered the high honor of christening a vessel in his name.