Harvey Milk, the SF Supervisor who made history as the first openly gay elected official in a major US city before his tragic assassination in 1978, has been honored in many ways. Histories, monuments, movies, a school, a plaza. But something was missing. There was no US Navy vessel named after him... until now.
USNI News, a naval institute publication, first reported the news. And it's a fitting tribute. The New York Times recalls that Milk served in the Navy starting in 1951, stationed as a diving instructor in San Diego before departing in 1955 after achieving the rank of lieutenant junior grade. His parents, too, served the Navy in World War I.
Apparently, an effort for the creation of a USNS Harvey Milk has been underway for some time, with a Facebook group advocating for it since at least last year. According to their bio of Milk, he "wore a brass belt buckle bearing his Navy diver’s insignia until the day he died.”
USNI news reports that that the ship is planned to be a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler, the USNS Harvey Milk. Other vessels in its cohort are to be named for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and activist Sojourner Truth.
Of course, gay sailors were often discharged or worse if outed in that era, which really lasted well into the Clinton administration under its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, a system finally lifted under President Obama five years ago. As gay and bisexual men and women can now serve openly, the decision to name a Naval vessel after a gay member of the Navy feels particularly appropriate.
Current gay SF Supervisor Scott Wiener is celebrating the news, writing on Medium that "This momentous decision sends a powerful message around the world about who we are as a country and the values we hold. When Harvey Milk served in the military, he couldn’t tell anyone who he truly was. Now our country is telling the men and women who serve, and the entire world, that we honor and support people for who they are. Harvey Milk’s strength continues to reverberate throughout our city, our country, and the world.”
Some are less enthusiastic, if the USNI News comments section is any indicator of the opinions of Naval enthusiasts and officers. That section has now been closed following sarcastic and demeaning comments. This video is for them: