The US Navy Just Launched A New Ship Named After Gay Rights Activist Harvey Milk

Milk was assassinated in 1978, after being forced to resign from the navy.

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The US navy has named a new ship after the assassinated gay rights icon, Harvey Milk.

The USNS Harvey Milk is one of six new navy ships that are all being named after US civil rights leaders. The US navy has said that it hopes the ship shows a commitment to current and future LGBTQ+ service members.

Harvey Milk In The US Navy

Harvey Milk served in the US navy during the 1950s, while the US was at war with Korea. He was discharged from his service in 1955 — at which point he was working as a Lieutenant — after being questioned about his sexuality.

Naval records show that he was actually forced to resign, and was given a type of discharge called an ‘Other Than Honorable’ (OTH) discharge, which is considered to be the most severe type of discharge from the military. Records also show how Milk was forced to describe in great detail the sex that he had had with various men while he was living in San Diego in the early 1950s.

LGBTQ+ Rights In The US

At that time, homosexuality was still very much illegal in the US.

In 1952, The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual described homosexuality as a ‘sociopathic personality disturbance’. Homosexuality remained classified as a kind of mental disorder in the US up until 1974. And in 1986, the US Supreme Court made a ruling that upheld sodomy laws in the state of Georgia.

It took until 2003 for the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling, which effectively decriminalised homosexuality across the whole of the country.

Milk eventually became a prominent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. In 1977, he won a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, which made him the first openly gay official elected to office in California, and one of America’s first openly gay politicians. But just a year later, Milk was assassinated when he was shot and killed by Dan White, a former city supervisor.

Why Has The Navy Named A Ship After Milk?

Back in 2016, the US navy told Congress that it was planning on naming a ship after Milk.

Five years earlier, President Obama had ended the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”, which prevented queer service members in the US from openly serving. It’s been estimated that around 100,000 service members were discharged under that policy throughout the 17 years that it was in effect.

Some people were opposed to the idea of naming a ship after Milk when it was first announced in 2016, suggesting that he wouldn’t have approved of it given his opposition to the Vietnam War. But Carlos Del Toro, the Secretary of the US navy, said that naming this new ship after Milk helps to right the wrongs of the past.

“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation,” Del Toro said in a press release.

Del Toro said that it had been wrong that Milk had been forced to “mask that very important part of his life”, and that “there is no doubt that the future Sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy”.

At the official launch of the USNS Harvey Milk in San Diego, Milk’s nephew — Stuart Milk — said that one of his uncle’s dreams was “for service members to serve with authenticity”, and that “this navy ship sends an important message to the world”.