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USS Harvey Milk: Lawmaker Wants Navy To Name Ship After Gay Icon

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Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk

Bob Filner, a Democratic San Diego congressman, has an idea for the next ship to be christened by the U.S. Navy--name it after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk.

Cue the Village People jokes.

Filner has joined with the GLBT Historic Task Force of San Diego in organizing a letter writing campaign aimed at convincing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to name a ship after the former San Francisco Supervisor.

Before being assassinated by fellow Supervisor Dan White in 1978, Milk made history when he was elected as the first openly gay public official in the United States.

"This action would be a fitting tribute to Mr. Milk's support for equality, an ideal exemplified in the military's recent repeal of its former Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," said Filner in a statement. The southern California legislator is the Democrats' ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is also in the process of running for mayor of San Diego.

Not only was Milk a Navy veteran, serving as diving officer on the USS Kittiwake during the Korean War, but both of his parents also served in the Navy.

Milk was posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the state of California began observing Harvey Milk Day every May 22 the following year.

"This action by the US Secretary of the Navy will further send a green light to all the brave men and women who serve our nation that honesty, acceptance and authenticity are held up among the highest ideals of our military," said Milk's nephew Stuart Milk in a statement to San Diego LGBT Weekly.

The Secretary of the Navy has historically carried the power to dictate the names of ships, and Mabus's decisions regarding those names have previously drawn controversy. Early last year, Mabus named a ship after late Pennsylvania representative John Murtha. While Murtha was a decorated war hero and the first Vietnam veteran elected to congress, Mabus's choice to honor him with a ship was controversial due to Murtha's outspoken opposition to the Iraq War and history of ethics scandals.

Time reports:

The independent naval journal Proceedings, published by the Naval Institute, has jumped into the fray. In November...[an editorial] complained about the choice of Murtha--as well as the growing trend to name ships for politicians, living or dead, in general. "The Navy should use names that are apolitical and historical," he wrote. "Political names immediately alienate a large segment of the population, often with passion that does not fade with time."

Mabus sparked a similar controversy last year when he named ships after labor leader Caesar Chavez, who served in the Navy for two years during his late teens, and nearly-assassinated congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Supporters of Mabus's naming practices have noted that, in the past, ships have been named after people like aviator Amelia Earhart and civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Check out this interview with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, author of the Academy Award-winning film "Milk," talking about the inspiring gay leader:

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Filed by Aaron Sankin