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Harvey Milk ship-christening with Mayor Todd Gloria

“Uncle Harvey was forced to resign because he was gay. It’s important to teach that we have evolved.”

Before he became a political activist, Harvey Milk was stationed with the Navy in San Diego.
Before he became a political activist, Harvey Milk was stationed with the Navy in San Diego.

On the morning of November 6, a foghorn could be heard blasting a sound of oceanic proportions across the General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company’s San Diego dry docks. Seconds earlier, the foghorn’s bellow had been preceded by the crash of a champagne bottle as it was broken across the double-hulled bow of a new, 746-foot T-AO refueling vessel. And with that, the United States Navy officially launched its first ship honoring a publicly gay individual: the USNS Harvey Milk. With an eerie quietness the huge “oiler” slid smoothly into the bay, the red, white and blue streamers tied to her towering bow waving in the gray skies. Far below, a crowd of celebrants applauded.

The late Harvey Milk is widely regarded as the first out, gay man in America to be elected to public office. Before that, he served in the US Navy as a lieutenant. Milk stayed in the closet until he was 30, but eventually came out as a gay man in San Francisco. There, he lost multiple races for public office before finally winning election to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year later, he was shot and killed — along with San Francisco Mayor George Mascone — by former fellow supervisor Dan White. In the months before his assassination, Milk won several battles against discrimination, not least among them the defeat of an initiative that would have barred gays from being employed by public schools.

Local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez says the naming is about both Harvey Milk and "the veterans and active-duty service members serving today."

Longtime local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez said the symbolism of the naming was important, “because it acknowledges our contributions to society, to governing, and to our fellow Americans. The letter writing worked. We, the Imperial Court System, flooded the Navy with letters.” While Ramirez agreed that “this is about Harvey, who was himself a veteran,” he added, “but more than that, it’s about veterans and active-duty service members serving today.”

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At the ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro spoke to an audience of about 235. “Take care of the people you lead, but more importantly, fight for them,” said del Toro. Then he addressed Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. “That’s what your uncle did.” Secretary del Toro lamented the fact that Lt. Harvey Milk was essentially kicked out of the Navy for being gay, and that generations of other sailors and service members likewise had been expelled from the military. (Milk had been stationed here in San Diego, serving in the submarine corps as a diving instructor.)

The 746-foot T-AO oiler is the second of the new John Lewis class of replenishment ship.

Stuart Milk also addressed the crowd, and expressed gratitude for the Navy’s decision to name a ship after his uncle. He noted that the Navy had recently offered to convert his uncle’s “less-than-honorable” discharge status to “honorable.” The family declined the offer. “Uncle Harvey did not set out to have a ship, a school, a street, a park or anything named after him,” Stuart said. “He did have a dream, however. The son of a Navy family…one of his dreams was for service members to serve with authenticity, and not be forced to hide who they were or who they loved. Uncle Harvey was forced to resign because he was gay. He underwent two weeks of intense interrogation, and it’s important to teach that we have evolved.”

While the ceremony was a joyous and celebratory affair, several veterans from the local LGBTQ+ community and others who had come from distant parts of the country were not allowed inside the gates, despite the fact that there were empty seats. One of them was Frank, a 91-year-old gay veteran who had served in wartime. “I was thinking of Frank, frankly,” said Ramirez when asked how the ship-christening had made him feel.

At a press conference following the christening, Secretary del Toro explained, “Unfortunately, I think [that] was because of the covid restrictions that were placed on the ceremony itself.” He encouraged people to get vaccinated, “so we can get back to a normal world where we can encourage far greater participation in ceremonies like this. When she comes in service in the July-August timeframe, maybe we can have a couple of more big ceremonies if the covid situation is under control.”

Still, at least one high-profile San Diego politician took time to meet and be photographed with the veterans who were excluded from attending: Mayor Todd Gloria, who is gay. Asked by this reporter if people in the LGBTQ+ community are too tough on leaders like del Toro who are working to right the wrongs of the past, Gloria was empathetic and circumspect. “I think we have to extend grace to everybody,” he said. “When I was coming up, it was lesbians and gays. Now we have transgender and intersex folks who are saying, ‘I want to be seen and I want to be heard.’ We’re all learning; we all stumble. My hope is that we continue to show them grace and invite people to be a part of this inclusive process that is our country.” (It is perhaps worth noting that the christening bottle was swung by Paula Neira, a transgender woman and a one-time Navy officer and clinician at Johns Hopkins, who was in the building when Milk was assassinated.)

Stuart Milk concluded his remarks by mentioning a letter that he received from a 15-year-old gay youth in Kuwait, a nation which hosts U.S. Navy ships at one of its ports. “In Kuwait, it’s still illegal to be LGBTQ+; in 70 countries it’s still illegal…punishable by death in a dozen. But in Kuwait, they don’t even have to have the death penalty. They have a thing called ‘honor killings.’ Families will kill a child who comes out. So Khalil had planned his own suicide so that his parents did not have to go to the trouble of killing him. But he heard about the U.S. Navy Ship Harvey Milk. He wrote to us and said, ‘I’m sitting here in port in Kuwait waiting for the U.S. Navy ship to come and I’ve put aside my plan for suicide.’”

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Before he became a political activist, Harvey Milk was stationed with the Navy in San Diego.
Before he became a political activist, Harvey Milk was stationed with the Navy in San Diego.

On the morning of November 6, a foghorn could be heard blasting a sound of oceanic proportions across the General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company’s San Diego dry docks. Seconds earlier, the foghorn’s bellow had been preceded by the crash of a champagne bottle as it was broken across the double-hulled bow of a new, 746-foot T-AO refueling vessel. And with that, the United States Navy officially launched its first ship honoring a publicly gay individual: the USNS Harvey Milk. With an eerie quietness the huge “oiler” slid smoothly into the bay, the red, white and blue streamers tied to her towering bow waving in the gray skies. Far below, a crowd of celebrants applauded.

The late Harvey Milk is widely regarded as the first out, gay man in America to be elected to public office. Before that, he served in the US Navy as a lieutenant. Milk stayed in the closet until he was 30, but eventually came out as a gay man in San Francisco. There, he lost multiple races for public office before finally winning election to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year later, he was shot and killed — along with San Francisco Mayor George Mascone — by former fellow supervisor Dan White. In the months before his assassination, Milk won several battles against discrimination, not least among them the defeat of an initiative that would have barred gays from being employed by public schools.

Local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez says the naming is about both Harvey Milk and "the veterans and active-duty service members serving today."

Longtime local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez said the symbolism of the naming was important, “because it acknowledges our contributions to society, to governing, and to our fellow Americans. The letter writing worked. We, the Imperial Court System, flooded the Navy with letters.” While Ramirez agreed that “this is about Harvey, who was himself a veteran,” he added, “but more than that, it’s about veterans and active-duty service members serving today.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

At the ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro spoke to an audience of about 235. “Take care of the people you lead, but more importantly, fight for them,” said del Toro. Then he addressed Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation. “That’s what your uncle did.” Secretary del Toro lamented the fact that Lt. Harvey Milk was essentially kicked out of the Navy for being gay, and that generations of other sailors and service members likewise had been expelled from the military. (Milk had been stationed here in San Diego, serving in the submarine corps as a diving instructor.)

The 746-foot T-AO oiler is the second of the new John Lewis class of replenishment ship.

Stuart Milk also addressed the crowd, and expressed gratitude for the Navy’s decision to name a ship after his uncle. He noted that the Navy had recently offered to convert his uncle’s “less-than-honorable” discharge status to “honorable.” The family declined the offer. “Uncle Harvey did not set out to have a ship, a school, a street, a park or anything named after him,” Stuart said. “He did have a dream, however. The son of a Navy family…one of his dreams was for service members to serve with authenticity, and not be forced to hide who they were or who they loved. Uncle Harvey was forced to resign because he was gay. He underwent two weeks of intense interrogation, and it’s important to teach that we have evolved.”

While the ceremony was a joyous and celebratory affair, several veterans from the local LGBTQ+ community and others who had come from distant parts of the country were not allowed inside the gates, despite the fact that there were empty seats. One of them was Frank, a 91-year-old gay veteran who had served in wartime. “I was thinking of Frank, frankly,” said Ramirez when asked how the ship-christening had made him feel.

At a press conference following the christening, Secretary del Toro explained, “Unfortunately, I think [that] was because of the covid restrictions that were placed on the ceremony itself.” He encouraged people to get vaccinated, “so we can get back to a normal world where we can encourage far greater participation in ceremonies like this. When she comes in service in the July-August timeframe, maybe we can have a couple of more big ceremonies if the covid situation is under control.”

Still, at least one high-profile San Diego politician took time to meet and be photographed with the veterans who were excluded from attending: Mayor Todd Gloria, who is gay. Asked by this reporter if people in the LGBTQ+ community are too tough on leaders like del Toro who are working to right the wrongs of the past, Gloria was empathetic and circumspect. “I think we have to extend grace to everybody,” he said. “When I was coming up, it was lesbians and gays. Now we have transgender and intersex folks who are saying, ‘I want to be seen and I want to be heard.’ We’re all learning; we all stumble. My hope is that we continue to show them grace and invite people to be a part of this inclusive process that is our country.” (It is perhaps worth noting that the christening bottle was swung by Paula Neira, a transgender woman and a one-time Navy officer and clinician at Johns Hopkins, who was in the building when Milk was assassinated.)

Stuart Milk concluded his remarks by mentioning a letter that he received from a 15-year-old gay youth in Kuwait, a nation which hosts U.S. Navy ships at one of its ports. “In Kuwait, it’s still illegal to be LGBTQ+; in 70 countries it’s still illegal…punishable by death in a dozen. But in Kuwait, they don’t even have to have the death penalty. They have a thing called ‘honor killings.’ Families will kill a child who comes out. So Khalil had planned his own suicide so that his parents did not have to go to the trouble of killing him. But he heard about the U.S. Navy Ship Harvey Milk. He wrote to us and said, ‘I’m sitting here in port in Kuwait waiting for the U.S. Navy ship to come and I’ve put aside my plan for suicide.’”

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Look at that disgusting elf. Holy mackerel. They really do have no souls, Jesus wasn't wrong, they really are the children of Satan.

Dec. 5, 2021

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