Navy brass honors Milk at ship ceremony

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday August 17, 2016
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More than 200 dignitaries, members of the U.S. Navy, and local LGBT community members gathered on the Great Lawn at Treasure Island Tuesday, August 16 for a ceremony naming an about-to-be-built supply vessel after the late Harvey Milk.

Milk was the first out gay person to be elected to public office in California and San Francisco when he won his race in 1977. He served as a San Francisco supervisor for only 11 months when he was assassinated in his City Hall office in November 1978 by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White, who also killed then-Mayor George Moscone.

The Navy announced last month that a fleet replenishment oiler, T-AO 206, would be named after Milk. On Tuesday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was on hand, along with other officials, to hold a naming ceremony.

The ceremony opened with a performance of the national anthem by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.

Mabus was the keynote speaker and officially named the ship the USNS Harvey Milk. The ship, which is expected to be completed in 2021, is the first Navy vessel to be named after a member of the LGBT community.

"It's important to recognize and honor Milk," Mabus said as he addressed the crowd. "He was a person who stood for, and was killed for, justice, equality, and freedom. His assassin tried to silence that voice, but even after death his voice still spoke."

Mabus also recalled Milk's service in the U.S. Navy, where he was a former lieutenant and diving instructor.

"Aren't we proud?" asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "This ship is another deeply powerful sign of how far we've come. We must acknowledge the role that President Obama played in all of this �" without his leadership this would not have happened."

Other speakers acknowledged the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the former federal law that forced LGBT service members to remain closeted, and the more recent lifting of the military's ban on transgender service members.

Paula Neira, a transgender woman who served in Iraq prior to transitioning, took to the podium in tears. "This is not about me," she said. "I am just the person selected to represent the LGBT heroes who served our nation."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the city's first Asian-American chief executive, said that he did not think he could have become mayor if Milk had not sacrificed his life.

"We mourn his loss but celebrate his life," Lee said. "This ship is part of the legacy of Harvey's unfinished work."

The ceremony concluded with a performance by the gay men's chorus of "Never Ever" from "Naked Man," an original suite commissioned by the chorus in 1996. After the ceremony, dignitaries posed for photos in front of a drawing of the finalized design for the USNS Harvey Milk.

Attendees were jubilant about the ship naming.

"Being a part of this will remain with me for the rest of my life," gay Supervisor Scott Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter after the ceremony.

"Harvey would have loved it," said Carol Ruth Silver, who served on the board with Milk. "It does say how far we've come �" we still have many leagues to go in the world."

"This is a momentous day," added Anne Kronenberg, who was Milk's campaign manager and one of his aides. "I think Harvey is dancing a jig �" I asked Secretary Mabus to paint the side of the ship Lavender. He smiled and didn't say no."

Stuart Milk, Milk's gay nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, smiled throughout the afternoon. "Harvey's legacy is a global message of visibility," he said. "This ship represents kids in playgrounds and people in corporate boardrooms who endured homophobic remarks. This is the legacy of my uncle."

The USNS Harvey Milk will be one of six double-hulled supply vessels in the class that will honor American civil rights icons, according to the Navy. The first replenishment oiler will be named USNS John Lewis after the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader.

Other guests at the ceremony included longtime gay activist Cleve Jones, Nancy G. Brinker, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and member of the Harvey Milk Foundation, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The ship will be built in San Diego's naval port.