The U.S. Navy christened and launched a ship named for LGBTQ rights hero Harvey Milk in San Diego Bay on Saturday.
Navy Veteran Paula Neira, the clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, christened the Navy’s USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206) during the Saturday morning ceremony by breaking a bottle of champagne across its bow.
“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,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in a statement ahead of the ceremony.
He attended the ceremony next to Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk, as well as state and local leaders, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.
“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,” Gloria later wrote on Twitter.
“The secretary of the Navy needed to be here today,” Del Toro said during the ceremony. “Not just to amend the wrongs of the past, but to give inspiration to all our LGBTQ community leaders who served in the Navy in uniform today and in the civilian workforce as well too and to tell them that we’re committed to them in the future.”
Milk served as a diving officer in the Navy during the Korean War but was discharged in 1955 because of his sexuality.
Like many others who came before him, Milk had to “mask that very important part of his life” while serving in the Navy, Del Toro said, according to The Associated Press.
“For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy,” he added. “That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice.”
“He has a less-than-honorable discharge. He was forced to resign because he was gay,” said Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk, the co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. “We have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards and repeating it,” he added.
In 1977 Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California, and served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In November 1978 he was assassinated at City Hall by Dan White, a former political colleague.
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