Navy Launches Ship Named for Assassinated LGBTQ Trailblazer Harvey Milk: 'A Beacon of Hope'

The vessel is the first U.S. Navy ship to be named for an openly gay leader

USNS Harvey Milk
USNS Harvey Milk. Photo: Alex Gallardo/AP. Inset: Getty

With a smashed bottle of champagne and a cheer from military and local officials, the Navy on Saturday launched the USNS Harvey Milk, a replenishment oiler and the first of its ships to be named for an openly gay leader.

"Today we christened the USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206)! This great ship honors #NavyDiver & #CivilRights activist Harvey Milk who was forced out of the service due to unfair policies," the Office of the Navy Secretary tweeted Saturday. "Because of him, today our #LGBTQ #Sailors & #Marines serve honorably as their genuine selves."

The ship was christened by Navy officer Paula Neira, a clinical program director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, who smashed the ceremonial champagne on its bow before it was launched into San Diego Bay on Saturday, The Navy Times reported.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, the first openly gay man to hold the office, also tweeted in celebration of the launch, sharing a series of photos along with a heartfelt caption.

"Truly honored to join @SecNav and so many federal, state, and local leaders for the christening of the USNS Harvey Milk," Gloria wrote. "Harvey was a beacon of hope not just for LGBTQ people, but all Americans. Now, this ship will serve as a symbol of hope for the world to see. #ForAllofUs"

Milk served four years in the Navy before being forced to resign due to his sexuality. He went on to win a race for San Francisco supervisor, becoming California's first openly gay elected official in 1977.

His tenure would be short-lived, however: In 1978, Milk was assassinated by his onetime colleague — former supervisor Dan White — who also killed San Francisco's then-mayor, George Moscone. Milk was 48.

White, who killed himself in 1985, was convicted of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter after a jury accepted his infamous "Twinkie defense," which attributed his crime to a diminished mental capacity evidenced by a depression that included eating junk food.

The late San Francisco supervisor was portrayed by actor Sean Penn in the Oscar-winning film Milk, released in 2008.

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In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who lauded his contributions to the gay rights movement.

"Harvey Bernard Milk dedicated his life to shattering boundaries and challenging assumptions. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in this country, he changed the landscape of opportunity for the nation's gay community," Obama said at the 2009 ceremony. "Throughout his life, he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction. Before his tragic death in 1978, he wisely noted, 'Hope will never be silent,' and called upon Americans to stay true to the guiding principles of equality and justice for all."

Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced in 2016 that Milk would be one of six civil and human rights leaders to serve as a namesake for a Navy oiler.

Others include Rep. John Lewis, Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy and Lucy Stone.

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