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USNS Harvey Milk to be christened November 6

"His example will live on in the steel of that ship and in all those who will serve aboard her.”

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.

This Saturday, November 6, a little after 9 am at the General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding dry docks here in San Diego, a champagne bottle will break across the double-hulled bow of a new, 746-foot T-AO refueling and replenishment ship, or “oiler,” as it is known in the Navy. When it does, the Navy will officially have its first vessel named for a publicly gay individual: the USNS Harvey Milk.

Longtime local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez says the symbolism of the naming is important, “because it acknowledges our contributions to society, to governing, and to our fellow Americans.” While he agrees that “this is about Harvey, who was himself a veteran,” he adds, “but more than that, it’s about veterans and active-duty service members serving today.”

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

Ramirez says that while the initial idea for the naming a ship after Milk may have been his, “this never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Imperial Court System members. “Many — I mean a lot — of our members are also veterans and active-duty service members. The Imperial Court System, which he heads, has been likened to a “gay Shriners or Rotary Club,” and it enlisted several hundred members and their friends and relatives to write letters to then-US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in support of the idea. After more than five years, they secured a verbal commitment. On Saturday, that commitment will be honored.

Harvey Milk is widely regarded as the first openly gay man in America to be elected to public office. Before that, he served in the US Navy as a lieutenant. He stayed in the closet until he was 30, but eventually came out as a gay man in San Francisco. There, he lost three races for public office before finally getting elected 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.

The naming of USNS Harvey Milk honors his legacy of fighting efforts to exclude gay people from society, efforts such as the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it illegal for members of the LGBTQ+ community to work as public school teachers. He was an advocate for being publicly comfortable with one’s private life, and gave speeches arguing that if more people realized that they knew or cared about someone who was not heterosexual, it would then be safer for those loved ones to live honestly. “That’s why Harvey always said, ‘Come out, come out wherever you are,’” says Ramirez. “Imagine what this christening will mean to the 91-year-old gay war veteran who had to hide who he was while risking his life in defense of freedom and our country. Frank Stefano is that veteran. He will be in attendance for the christening.”

Retired US Navy Commander Ron Williams will also be watching the christening and launch. “Having known the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s strict stance on no gays in the military for many years, I never thought in my lifetime that I would see the US military allow openly gay service members,” he says. Williams retried from a desk job in the Navy. But he once helped run day-to-day operations on a Neosho Class Navy fleet oiler — an older type of replenishment vessel. Williams says the symbolism of November 9th’s christening goes well beyond one man’s name. “To see the US Navy name a ship after Harvey Milk is breathtakingly wonderful,” he says.

Williams was reported, or “outed,” as gay to the Navy by a jilted lover a couple of years before the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was instituted in 1993. At the time, the only substantive verbiage in the Uniform Military Code of Justice about gay people read, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” So technically, there was no requirement to expel — a fate that befell an estimated 13,000 service members during that policy’s implementation. But Williams says his career suffered after the investigation was over. “If the Navy had accepted gay service members when I was serving, I would have retired as Captain Williams instead of Commander Williams.”

Once christened, the USNS Harvey Milk will be the second copy of the entirely new John Lewis class of replenishment vessels that supply jet fuel to aircraft carriers and Navy helicopters like the MH-60R Sea Hawk. (The class was named after the late congressman, another crusader for civil rights.) “Although the role of fleet oilers might not be considered as glamorous as that of other Navy ships, fleet oilers are critical to the Navy’s ability to operate in forward-deployed areas around the world on a sustained basis,” explains a report from the Congressional Research Service. The ships are priced at nearly $670 million each, and. another four are already on order. Each is slated to be constructed in San Diego, potentially representing $13.5 billion injected into the local economy.

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

Not everyone supports the investment. According to a report by U.S. Naval Institute, citing the Biden Administration’s 2022 Fiscal Year budget requests, Retired Army Major General John Ferrari recently told a panel of fellow defense-policy analysts that the Pentagon has “walked away from the 500-ship Navy” sought by the Trump Administration. It’s not that Ferrari, a visiting fellow with the conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute, sees a problem with the Lewis class vessels specifically. Rather, he worries about what a possible back-and-forth battle plan that mutates with each changing administration. And that buying ships out of the context of a larger defense plan — such as the Trump Administration’s “plussed-up” version of the Obama Administration’s “Battle Force 2045” strategy — seems unwise. Especially when a looming shortage of naval manpower could, as fellow American Enterprise Institute panelist Elaine McCusker put it, have America’s military “trading capability for capacity.”

For his part, former US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the man who green-lighted the John Lewis class shipbuilding program and the civil rights-activists-naming theme, was clear about the value of the ships — both symbolically and substantively. Of the Milk, he said, "T-AO 206 will, for decades to come, serve as a visible legacy of Harvey Milk's committed service to his nation, both as a Sailor and as an activist. By adorning one of our ships with his name, his example will live on in the steel of that ship and in all those who will serve aboard her.”

The live event will be scaled down from original plans due to covid, but can be watched via livestream here.

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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.

This Saturday, November 6, a little after 9 am at the General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding dry docks here in San Diego, a champagne bottle will break across the double-hulled bow of a new, 746-foot T-AO refueling and replenishment ship, or “oiler,” as it is known in the Navy. When it does, the Navy will officially have its first vessel named for a publicly gay individual: the USNS Harvey Milk.

Longtime local LGBTQ+ activist Nicole Murray Ramirez says the symbolism of the naming is important, “because it acknowledges our contributions to society, to governing, and to our fellow Americans.” While he agrees that “this is about Harvey, who was himself a veteran,” he adds, “but more than that, it’s about veterans and active-duty service members serving today.”

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

Ramirez says that while the initial idea for the naming a ship after Milk may have been his, “this never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Imperial Court System members. “Many — I mean a lot — of our members are also veterans and active-duty service members. The Imperial Court System, which he heads, has been likened to a “gay Shriners or Rotary Club,” and it enlisted several hundred members and their friends and relatives to write letters to then-US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in support of the idea. After more than five years, they secured a verbal commitment. On Saturday, that commitment will be honored.

Harvey Milk is widely regarded as the first openly gay man in America to be elected to public office. Before that, he served in the US Navy as a lieutenant. He stayed in the closet until he was 30, but eventually came out as a gay man in San Francisco. There, he lost three races for public office before finally getting elected 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.

The naming of USNS Harvey Milk honors his legacy of fighting efforts to exclude gay people from society, efforts such as the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it illegal for members of the LGBTQ+ community to work as public school teachers. He was an advocate for being publicly comfortable with one’s private life, and gave speeches arguing that if more people realized that they knew or cared about someone who was not heterosexual, it would then be safer for those loved ones to live honestly. “That’s why Harvey always said, ‘Come out, come out wherever you are,’” says Ramirez. “Imagine what this christening will mean to the 91-year-old gay war veteran who had to hide who he was while risking his life in defense of freedom and our country. Frank Stefano is that veteran. He will be in attendance for the christening.”

Retired US Navy Commander Ron Williams will also be watching the christening and launch. “Having known the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s strict stance on no gays in the military for many years, I never thought in my lifetime that I would see the US military allow openly gay service members,” he says. Williams retried from a desk job in the Navy. But he once helped run day-to-day operations on a Neosho Class Navy fleet oiler — an older type of replenishment vessel. Williams says the symbolism of November 9th’s christening goes well beyond one man’s name. “To see the US Navy name a ship after Harvey Milk is breathtakingly wonderful,” he says.

Williams was reported, or “outed,” as gay to the Navy by a jilted lover a couple of years before the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was instituted in 1993. At the time, the only substantive verbiage in the Uniform Military Code of Justice about gay people read, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” So technically, there was no requirement to expel — a fate that befell an estimated 13,000 service members during that policy’s implementation. But Williams says his career suffered after the investigation was over. “If the Navy had accepted gay service members when I was serving, I would have retired as Captain Williams instead of Commander Williams.”

Once christened, the USNS Harvey Milk will be the second copy of the entirely new John Lewis class of replenishment vessels that supply jet fuel to aircraft carriers and Navy helicopters like the MH-60R Sea Hawk. (The class was named after the late congressman, another crusader for civil rights.) “Although the role of fleet oilers might not be considered as glamorous as that of other Navy ships, fleet oilers are critical to the Navy’s ability to operate in forward-deployed areas around the world on a sustained basis,” explains a report from the Congressional Research Service. The ships are priced at nearly $670 million each, and. another four are already on order. Each is slated to be constructed in San Diego, potentially representing $13.5 billion injected into the local economy.

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

Not everyone supports the investment. According to a report by U.S. Naval Institute, citing the Biden Administration’s 2022 Fiscal Year budget requests, Retired Army Major General John Ferrari recently told a panel of fellow defense-policy analysts that the Pentagon has “walked away from the 500-ship Navy” sought by the Trump Administration. It’s not that Ferrari, a visiting fellow with the conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute, sees a problem with the Lewis class vessels specifically. Rather, he worries about what a possible back-and-forth battle plan that mutates with each changing administration. And that buying ships out of the context of a larger defense plan — such as the Trump Administration’s “plussed-up” version of the Obama Administration’s “Battle Force 2045” strategy — seems unwise. Especially when a looming shortage of naval manpower could, as fellow American Enterprise Institute panelist Elaine McCusker put it, have America’s military “trading capability for capacity.”

For his part, former US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the man who green-lighted the John Lewis class shipbuilding program and the civil rights-activists-naming theme, was clear about the value of the ships — both symbolically and substantively. Of the Milk, he said, "T-AO 206 will, for decades to come, serve as a visible legacy of Harvey Milk's committed service to his nation, both as a Sailor and as an activist. By adorning one of our ships with his name, his example will live on in the steel of that ship and in all those who will serve aboard her.”

The live event will be scaled down from original plans due to covid, but can be watched via livestream here.

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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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