SAN DIEGO — A Navy ship named for slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, who served four years in the Navy before being forced out, was christened and launched in San Diego Bay on Saturday.
The replenishment oiler USNS Harvey Milk slid down the shipyard ways after a bottle of champagne was smashed on the bow by former Navy officer Paula M. Neira, clinical program director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.
Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro watched the traditional ceremony.
“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 said that, like many others, Milk had to “mask that very important part of his life” while he served in the Navy.
“For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” Del Toro said. “That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”
Milk was one of the first openly gay candidates elected to public office. He was serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 when a former political colleague, Dan White, assassinated him and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.
In 2016, then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus decided that six new oilers scheduled to be built would be named after civil and human rights leaders. In addition to Milk, they include Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, suffragist Lucy Stone and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Del Toro told Mabus, who attended the christening, that it was a courageous decision.