A Navy ship named for slain gay rights icon Harvey Milk was launched in San Diego Bay on Saturday.
The USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler, was christened with a traditional champagne bottle break alongside the hull by Paula Neira, clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.
“Harvey Milk’s words and actions brought hope and inspiration to many for whom our nation’s lofty rhetoric of equality and inclusion were not yet reality,” Neira said in a news release from General Dynamics NASSCO, which built the ship for the Navy.
Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, told those gathered at Saturday’s launch that his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in 1955 after being questioned about his sexual orientation.
Harvey Milk came from a Navy family and had been proud to carry on that tradition, Stuart Milk said. One of his uncle’s dreams was for military service members to “serve with authenticity and not be forced to hide who they were or who they loved,” he said.
Milk, elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White inside San Francisco City Hall.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said he was honored to be at Saturday’s christening of the USNS Harvey Milk.
“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.
Del Toro told Stuart Milk that “the example that your uncle set, for all Americans, the life that he led in the Navy, the life he led afterward, is truly exemplary.”
General Dynamics built the ship, a 742-foot-long oiler designed to transfer fuel to U.S. Navy carrier strike group ships operating at sea. The John Lewis-class oilers have the capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and up to a speed of 20 knots.
“We are justifiably proud of every ship we build, but this one is special because of her namesake,” said David Carver, president of General Dynamics NASSCO.
In addition to the christening of the USNS Harvey Milk, two ships in the fleet oiler program for the U.S. Navy — the future USNS Earl Warren and the future USNS Robert F. Kennedy — are currently under construction. The lead ship, the future USNS John Lewis, was launched earlier this year.