The United States Navy has begun construction on a ship that will be named after slain gay rights advocate and politician Harvey Milk, six decades after the service branch forced him out because of his sexual orientation.
“(This) sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone,'” nephew Stuart Milk said at a ceremony commemorating the construction in San Diego, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “(It says) We celebrate everyone.”
While serving as a diving instructor in San Diego in the 1950s, Milk was was questioned by Navy officials about his sexual orientation after he was caught at a park popular with gay men. In 1955, he was forced to resign with the rank of lieutenant junior grade.
The USNS Harvey Milk, an oiler, will refuel other ships at sea. It joins a class of oilers named after Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis which includes vessels named after other civil rights leaders like Sojourner Truth and Robert F. Kennedy.
“When Harvey Milk served in the military, he couldn’t tell anyone who he truly was,” Scott Wiener, then a San Francisco supervisor, wrote after the Navy’s 2016 announcement of the forthcoming ship. “Now our country is telling the men and women who serve, and the entire world, that we honor and support people for who they are.”
Under a 2011 order from President Obama, openly LGBTQ people were finally allowed to serve in the military. However, the Trump administration has banned transgender recruits from joining the armed services.
Milk was the first openly gay official elected in the state of California. In 1978, less than a year after he was inaugurated as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former city supervisor Dan White.
President Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009.
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