The U.S. Navy launched a new ship on Saturday named for the LGBTQ+ rights leader and politician Harvey Milk.
Milk served four years in the Navy before he was forced out due to his sexuality. He was one of the first out candidates to serve in public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk was assassinated the following year by a former colleague while at City Hall.
Former Navy officer Paula Neira, clinical program director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, smashed a bottle of champagne on the USNS Harvey Milk's bow before it traveled down the shipyard ways.
During the launch ceremony, Neira said, "When the Harvey Milk sails, she will send a very strong message both domestically and around the globe to everybody that believes in freedom and justice and liberty, that there is a place for you in this family."
\u201cThe USNS Harvey Milk was launched in San Diego. The US Navy Fleet Oiler was commissioned by Paula Neira, the Clinical Program Director for John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health. SF Supervisor Milk was killed in office by Dan White in 1978. Milk was a Navy Vet. @nbcbayarea\u201d
A significant number of remarks at the ceremony focused on the evolution of inclusion in the U.S. military.
"The secretary of the Navy needed to be here today not just to amend the wrongs of the past but to give inspiration to all of 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," Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said during the launch's ceremony.
"For far too long, sailors like Lt. Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy," Del Toro said. "That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continue to serve in the face of injustice."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, was unable to attend the event but sent a letter to be read at the ceremony. She knew Milk and was at City Hall when Milk was shot. In the letter, she wrote that the USNS Harvey Milk, "will carry a rich legacy of civic leadership."
Milk's name was selected in 2016 by then-Navy Secretary Ray Mabus who decided that six new oilers that were scheduled to be made should be named after U.S. human rights leaders, according to the Associated Press.
\u201cTruly honored to join @SecNav and so many federal, state, and local leaders for the christening of the USNS Harvey Milk. 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. #ForAllofUs\u201d
— San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (@San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria)
In addition to Milk, Sojourner Truth, Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, and Lucy Stone will be honored. The late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia was honored with the first ship in the order over the summer. The oilers are being built by General Dynamics NASSCO as part of a $3.2 billion contract with the Navy.
\u201cToday we christened the USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206)! This great ship honors #NavyDiver & #CivilRights activist Harvey Milk who was forced out of the service due to unfair policies. Because of him, today our #LGBTQ #Sailors & #Marines serve honorably as their genuine selves.\u201d
— Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro (@Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro)
At the ceremony, Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk thanked Mabus for giving his family detailed information about Milk's discharge from the Navy.
"He has a less-than-honorable discharge. He was forced to resign because he was gay," Stuart Milk, co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said. Though there is a way to reverse discharges such as Milk's, Stuart Milk said it's important to keep Milk's discharge as it is to remember how those who did honorable service were not always treated honorably.
"We have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards and repeating it," he said.
\u201cThanks to everyone who made the USNS Harvey Milk possible- especially all of you who physically built her.\u2764\ufe0f May she share hope all around the world. #hope @GDNASSCO #USNavy @SECNAV75 @SECNAV #USNSHarveyMilk #ThankYou #HarveyMilk\u201d