It's been less than a decade that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people could serve openly in the U.S. military. Now construction has begun on a ship named after one of the most notable queer leaders in U.S. history.
Construction began last week on the USNS Harvey Milk, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune. The fleet oiler was named after slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who served as a naval dive officer in San Diego, where the ship will be constructed.
Stuart Milk, the civil rights icon's nephew, attended a ship naming ceremony and said the vessel serves a valuable symbolic purpose.
It "sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply 'We'll tolerate everyone,'" Stuart Milk said. "[It says] we celebrate everyone."
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, spoke often of the value of out individuals serving in positions of leadership. In a famous speech in 1978, he spoke of how having allies in office was no longer enough. "A friend has never gone through what is known as coming out," he said. "I will never forget what it was like coming out and having nobody to look up toward. I remember the lack of hope -- and our friends can't fulfill it."
Of course, Milk could not serve in the Navy openly, and he was forced to resign his commission when in the 1950s he was caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men. Some 70 years afterward, the Navy has now delivered the high honor of christening a vessel in his name.
The fight for LGBTQ recognition in the service has lasted long after Milk's 1979 assassination. It wasn't until 2010 that President Barack Obama signed legislation repealing "don't ask, don't tell," initiated in 1994 as an alternative to the previous outright ban on LGB service members. Under Obama, the military also lifted a policy barring transgender people from serving, but Donald Trump has reinstated that ban.