On Saturday 06 November 2021, the US Navy christened and launched a ship named after gay rights leader Harvey Milk who was forced to resign from the naval force because of his sexual orientation despite having served his country during the Korean War. The USNS Harvey Milk is a 742-foot-long replenishment oiler, which refuels aircraft carriers at sea and is the second of six new vessels in the Navy’s fleet oiler program.

During the christening ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said; “He made a difference. That’s the kind of naval leader we need.” Despite the seemingly insignificance of the act, naming a ship after an LGBTQIA+ Icon is a symbolic milestone for the Navy which has a long history of homophobia, transphobia and of preventing LGBTQIA+ individuals from serving openly.

With an estimated 100,000 veterans having been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation, the christening of the USNS Harvey Milk is a way for the Navy to right the wrongs of the past and to show the commitment of the military to current and future LGBTQIA+ members. In his speech, Carlos Del Toro further stated, “Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation. There is no doubt that the future Sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy.”

For Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, the Navy took a great step forward for service members to be encouraged to serve with authenticity and not be forced to hide who they are and who they love. “We have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards,” said Stuart Milk.

The ship was sponsored by US Senator Dianne Feinstein, democrat representative of California, who was the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when Harvey Milk served on the board and Paula Neira, veteran of the Navy and the clinical program Director at the Center for Transgender Health at Johns Hopkins University.

To remind, in 1977, after his destitution from the Navy, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California where he won a seat on the San Fracisco Board of Supervisors. One year later Milk was assassinated by former city supervisor, Dan White.

Young Queer Alliance

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