The U.S. Navy hit a nautical milestone Saturday when it christened a ship named for slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.
The ship is the second of six new vessels in the Navy’s fleet oiler program, which help replenish fuel for other Navy ships already out at sea.
Milk is the first known member of the LGBTQ community to have a ship named after him. Ironically, Milk, who served in the Korean War, received a “less than honorable” discharge from the service after being questioned about his sexual orientation.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said the launch ceremony of the 742-foot-long USNS Harvey Milk from San Diego on Saturday will help to right some of the wrongs of the past and showed a commitment to current and future LGBTQ service members.
Del Toro also said it was wrong that Milk was forced to “mask that very important part of his life” during his time in the Navy.
It’s estimated that some 100,000 veterans have been discharged from military service in the U.S. because of their sexual orientation.
“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation. There is no doubt that the future sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy,” said Del Toro.
Stuart Milk, Milk’s nephew and the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said that one of his uncle’s dreams was for service members to serve with authenticity and not be forced to hide who they were and who they love.
Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He and then-San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were fatally shot in City Hall a year later by former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.