San Diego shipbuilder begins construction on the U.S. Navy ship Harvey Milk

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Construction on a new Navy ship has started in San Diego named after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

Milk was the first openly gay man elected in the state of California.

The ship, which is being built at NASSCO San Diego, will ultimately become a fleet oiler which will be used to replenish fuel, oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. 

Kathy Baker, a logistics engineer with 45 years at NASSCO, made the ceremonial first cut of steel for the ship.  

Work has begun on constructing a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler after the pioneering gay leader, Harvey Milk

Work has begun on constructing a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler after the pioneering gay leader, Harvey Milk

Work has begun on constructing a Military Sealift Command fleet oiler after the pioneering gay leader, Harvey Milk

Stuart Milk, center, the nephew of civil rights leader Harvey Milk, stands next to a photo of the USNS Harvey Milk during a ship naming ceremony

Stuart Milk, center, the nephew of civil rights leader Harvey Milk, stands next to a photo of the USNS Harvey Milk during a ship naming ceremony

Stuart Milk, center, the nephew of civil rights leader Harvey Milk, stands next to a photo of the USNS Harvey Milk during a ship naming ceremony

‘I was shocked,’ she said to the San Diego Tribune. ‘I was honored. Felt all the time, effort and hard work I put in all these years was appreciated.’

Milk, who came from a naval family, served as a Navy diving officer during the Korean War.

His nephew, Stuart Milk, was present at Friday’s event and said naming the ship after his uncle sends a message to people around the world.

‘This sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone,’ Milk said. ‘It says We celebrate everyone.’ 

Milk’s career as a Navy officer ended with an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, due to allegations of fraternization with enlisted personnel. 

Some argue that Milk was forced out of the military because he was gay.

San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk sits in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in San Francisco in April 1977

San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk sits in the mayor's office during the signing of the city's gay rights bill in San Francisco in April 1977

San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk sits in the mayor’s office during the signing of the city’s gay rights bill in San Francisco in April 1977

The Navy is naming a ship in honor of the late gay rights leader, who served in the Navy for four years before he began a career in San Francisco city government

The Navy is naming a ship in honor of the late gay rights leader, who served in the Navy for four years before he began a career in San Francisco city government

The Navy is naming a ship in honor of the late gay rights leader, who served in the Navy for four years before he began a career in San Francisco city government

Fraternization with enlisted personnel by an officer is against military regulations — whether they are the same or different genders.

Stuart Milk said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men. To be honored now with a ship showed how much things have changed, he said. 

The ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military was formally ended in September 2011 under President Barack Obama, however, under President Donald Trump, transgender people are now banned from military service.

NASSCO logistics engineer Kathy Baker, middle, signs off on the ceremonial first cut of steel for the future Harvey Milk on Friday at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego

NASSCO logistics engineer Kathy Baker, middle, signs off on the ceremonial first cut of steel for the future Harvey Milk on Friday at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego

NASSCO logistics engineer Kathy Baker, middle, signs off on the ceremonial first cut of steel for the future Harvey Milk on Friday at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego

Stuart Milk, nephew of slain former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, thanks Assemblyman Todd Gloria for his work for the community, in San Diego

Stuart Milk, nephew of slain former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, thanks Assemblyman Todd Gloria for his work for the community, in San Diego

Stuart Milk, nephew of slain former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, thanks Assemblyman Todd Gloria for his work for the community, in San Diego

‘He dreamed of a day like today, when not only would we have the military honoring LGBT, but we have a mayor from the Republican party and we have everyone that represents the San Diego community coming out,’ Stuart Milk said. ‘This would have been un-dreamable for people back in 1978.’ 

Milk's career as a Navy officer ended with an 'other than honorable' discharge, due to allegations of fraternization with enlisted personnel

Milk's career as a Navy officer ended with an 'other than honorable' discharge, due to allegations of fraternization with enlisted personnel

Milk’s career as a Navy officer ended with an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, due to allegations of fraternization with enlisted personnel

Nicknamed ‘the gay Martin Luther King, Jr’ for his work to end discrimination against gay people, Milk was killed one year after winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which made him the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in America. 

He was serving on the board in 1978 when a former political colleague, Dan White, assassinated him and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.

Former United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Milk ‘offered hope for millions of Americans who were being ostracized and prosecuted just for who they loved.’

Speaking in San Francisco during the initial announcement of the ship’s creation, Mabus said it was important to honor those like Milk who have fought in a different way, battling — and sometimes dying — for freedom and equality.

Chad Griffin, the president of the advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, lauded the Navy honor for Milk, calling it ‘further evidence of the profound progress on LGBTQ equality we continue to make as a nation.’

‘In his bold and unabashed advocacy, Milk inspired LGBTQ people for generations,’ Griffin said in a statement.

Five other replenishment oilers will bear the names of civil and human rights leaders: Sojourner Truth, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, suffragist Lucy Stone and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.