U.S. Navy ship being named after gay rights activist

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Work has begun on constructing a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler after the pioneering gay leader, Harvey Milk

A new U.S. Navy ship will bear the name of a gay-rights activist who once served in the Navy, and construction of the vessel began last week.

The future USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet oiler, was named for the slain gay rights leader and the first openly gay man elected in California. Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978 and was assassinated 10 months later by an ex-supervisor. His life was the subject of the 2008 documentary “Milk.”

About 30 years before being elected, Milk served as a San Diego-based Naval dive officer. His nephew, Stuart Milk, was at Friday’s event and said naming the ship after his uncle sends “a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone … (It says) We celebrate everyone.”

Milk said his uncle had to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being found to frequent a San Diego park popular with gay men. To be honored now with a ship shows things have changed a lot, he said.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria addded, “Today the Navy’s constructing a ship named after the first openly gay elected official in California. It shows the progress we’re making and a deepening of the commitment the military has to including gay and lesbian service members.”

Fleet oilers like the future Harvey Milk are used to replenish fuel oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. The Milk will be the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet oilers. The future John Lewis, named for the civil rights leader and congressman, also is being built at San Diego.

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