U.S. Navy Designates a Ship After Gay Rights Leader Harvey Milk

The U.S. Navy announced this month it will name a ship after San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, an icon of the gay rights movement who became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California.


Milk joined the Navy in 1951, serving as a diving officer and later a diving instructor during the Korean War. He moved to the Bay Area in the late 1960s and led a campaign against police targeting of gay bars, clubs and bathhouses in San Francisco. Milk’s role as a politician grew in subsequent years, and in 1977, he defeated 16 other candidates to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a first for California.

In 1978, a little over 10 months after being sworn in, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

The push for a ship honoring the fallen civil rights hero began in 2011, after the repeal of the military’s discriminatory don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. In a statement to San Diego LGBT Weekly in 2012, Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk said naming a ship after his uncle “will further send a green light to all the brave men and women who serve our nation that honesty, acceptance and authenticity are held up among the highest ideals of our military.”

San Diego Congressman Bob Filner, who organized a letter-writing campaign to convince Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to name a ship after the former supervisor, said the action is “a fitting tribute to Mr. Milk’s support for equality, an ideal exemplified in the military’s recent repeal of its former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.”

Mabus signed the notification on July 14. The Navy announced earlier this year it would designate a new class of oilers after civil rights leaders who fought for equality in the United States. The USNS Harvey Milk will be second in its class, led by the USNS John Lewis, who served as the president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement. Other ships in the fleet include USNS Earl Warren, USNS Robert F. Kennedy and USNS Sojourner Truth.

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