A crew in San Diego on Friday cut the first piece of steel on what will become the United States Naval Ship “Harvey Milk,” a fleet oiler named for the slain gay rights leader.
Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978, becoming the first openly gay politician in California. He was assassinated 10 months later by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978.
Almost 30 years before his election, Milk served as a Navy dive instructor in San Diego. His nephew, Stuart Milk, attended Friday’s event and said naming the ship after his uncle sends a message to people around the world.
“(This) sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone,’” Milk said. “(It says) We celebrate everyone.”
Milk said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria told the Union-Tribune that progress for gay and lesbian service members has been swift.
“I was a congressional staffer when we were working to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and you think about how difficult a challenge that was,” he said, refer to the military’s ban on out LGBT service members that was repealed in 2010.
“Today the Navy’s constructing a ship named after the first openly gay elected official in California,” he said. “It shows the progress we’re making and a deepening of the commitment the military has to including gay and lesbian service members.”
Nicole Murray Ramirez, the chairman and executive director of the San Diego International Imperial Court Council, an LGBT organization, spearheaded the effort to name a vessel after Milk.
“When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was lifted, I researched, and one guy picks all these (ship) names — the Secretary of the Navy,” Ramirez said.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:
Fleet oilers like the future Harvey Milk are used to replenish fuel oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. The Milk will be the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet oilers. The future John Lewis, named for the civil rights leader and congressman, also is being built at NASSCO San Diego.
While the naming of the Harvey Milk is a sign of progress, Gloria said, there is still work to be done. Under President Donald Trump, transgender people are banned from military service.
Stuart Milk told the Union-Tribune his uncle dreamed of a day when members of his community would be accepted, and he knew his advocacy would result in his death.
“I think people should know it’s not Hollywood — he did know that he was going to be killed,” Milk said of his uncle. “He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know when, but it gave him the courage to continue doing what he was doing.”
Stuart Milk carries on his uncle’s work as the founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation. He said Friday’s ceremony was fulfills one of Harvey Milk’s dreams.
“He dreamed of a day like today, when not only would we have the military honoring LGBT, but we have a mayor from the Republican party and we have everyone that represents the San Diego community coming out,” Milk said. “This would have been un-dreamable for people back in 1978.”
Harvey Milk urged gay people to proclaim their sexual orientation as a way to fight for full equality.
“We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions,” he said in a speech. “We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”
As the Washington Post notes, Milk received death threats on a daily basis. He created several iterations of his will in case he were to be assassinated. “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” he said in one version.