December 15, 2019 at 5:24 pm EST | by John Paul King
Construction begins on US Navy ship named for Harvey Milk
LGBTQ rights advocate and icon Harvey Milk (Photo courtesy of SF Public Library)

The USNS Harvey Milk is a ship whose time has finally come.

Construction on the ship, a fleet oiler named for the slain LGBTQ icon, began Friday at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego. It will be the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet oilers, which are ships used to replenish fuel oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. The future John Lewis, named for the late civil rights leader and congressman, is also being built at the San Diego shipyard.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the Harvey Milk was so-named after a deliberate push by LGBTQ equality advocates following the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. A leader in this campaign was Nicole Murray Ramirez, the chairman and executive director of the San Diego International Imperial Court Council, an LGBT organization, who said, “When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was lifted, I researched, and one guy picks all these [ship] names — the Secretary of the Navy.”

The Court Council, which has chapters nationwide, subsequently began a national letter-writing campaign, pushing then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to name a ship for Milk.

Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978, was assassinated 10 months later by an ex-supervisor, Dan White, who shot Milk to death along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. He had been a Naval dive officer based in San Diego nearly 30 years before being elected, but was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park known as a cruising spot for gay men.

According to Stuart Milk, the late LGBTQ rights pioneer’s nephew, his uncle always knew he would die as a result of his advocacy.

“I think people should know it’s not Hollywood,” the younger Milk said. “He did know that he was going to be killed. He didn’t know who, and he didn’t know when, but it gave him the courage to continue doing what he was doing.”

“He dreamed of a day like today,” Milk continued, “when not only would we have the military honoring LGBT, but we have a mayor from the Republican party and we have everyone that represents the San Diego community coming out. This would have been un-dreamable for people back in 1978.

[It] sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone. [It says] ‘we celebrate everyone.’ ”

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