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U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk to Be First Navy Ship Named After Openly Gay Leader

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency
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In a signal of how far LGBT rights have advanced here in the United States, the U.S. Navy held a ceremony last week on San Francisco’s Treasure Island to announce that a Navy ship will be named in honor of Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office when he won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Less than one year later, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall by a former city supervisor who was also a political opponent of Milk.

The ship, U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk, will be completed, christened and launched in 2021, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. One of six T-AO 205 tankers that will be named after civil rights leaders, the ship will haul fuel, spare parts and other supplies to ships and carriers operating at sea. The other ships in this series will be named after John Lewis, Robert F. Kennedy, the suffragist Lucy Stone, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Milk enlisted in the Navy in 1951 during the Korean War. He served until 1955 when his career as an officer ended with a “less than honorable discharge,” according to the Associated Press. Some claim that Milk was booted from the Navy because of his sexuality; others say it was because of his fraternization with enlisted personnel. Those records are still sealed and the U.S. Navy has refused to comment on the exact reason.

Comments on social media have shown how some have chaffed at the thought of not naming a ship after a U.S. state, politician or a military leader. But as widely quoted by news outlets, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus remarked at last week’s ceremony that “a more diverse force is a stronger force.”

This step taken by the military follows the lead of the business community, which has been far ahead of government institutions when it comes to dignity for LGBT Americans. Businesses have provided benefits for the domestic partners and spouses for gay and lesbians long before last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. Companies have been pushing back against what they see as “hate laws” such as North Carolina’s “bathroom bill.” The NBA stood up to the Tar Heel state’s government and has announced it will be moved from Charlotte next year. And despite all the noise in state capitols, more companies are making a concerted effort to hire and retain transgender employees. With last week's ceremony, the U.S. Navy has now made it clear that all these changes are not about making a few uncomfortable, but instead, that everyone is welcome to make a contribution within this country.

Image credit: U.S. Secretary of the Navy/Facebook

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye