Navy to name a ship after gay rights trailblazer Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk, the late politician and groundbreaking gay rights activist, has been honored with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Hollywood bio-pic and his own U.S. postage stamp. Now he will be immortalized in a new, unprecedented way: as namesake to a U.S. Navy ship.

U.S. Naval Institute News reported that it had obtained a congressional notification signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that a vessel will be named after Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Milk was assassinated at San Francisco’s city hall in 1978.

The Navy won’t release details on the naming until the formal announcement, reported USNI News.

The move is “the first time (the Navy) has bestowed the honor on a gay leader and a gesture that underscores the military’s transformative shift on LGBT people,” wrote the San Francisco Gate.

So why Milk? The planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler USNS Harvey Milk will be part of a new class of ships that’s named for Rep. John Lewis and dedicated to American civil rights heroes. Other honorees include Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and 19th century women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1977, served in the Navy more than two decades earlier during the Korean War and was a diving instructor at the base in San Diego. Later, Milk was an anti-Vietnam War activist.

The SF Gate reported that Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, had long urged the military to undertake this naming. A congressman from San Diego, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., wrote to both Mabus and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to suggest the tribute, according to the Navy Times.

In 2011, President Barack Obama abolished the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, making it legal for gay service members to serve openly.

“What better message can there be of that than this ship?” Stuart Milk told SF Gate. “It’s a very fitting tribute to a man whose primary goal was for people to be authentic and not have to wear a mask.”