QUEER VOICES
07/29/2016 05:17 am ET Updated Dec 20, 2016

The Navy Is Naming A Ship After LGBTQ Pioneer Harvey Milk

"This momentous decision sends a powerful message around the world."
STF/AP

The legend of Harvey Milk lives on.

The Navy is planning to name one of its new oil tankers after the pioneering gay rights activist who served his country as a diving officer during the Korean War, US Naval Institute News reports.

Gay people were banned from serving in the U.S. armed forces until 1994 when The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was enacted. That rule, which lasted until 2011, would have allowed Milk to serve, but only if he hid his sexuality. The ban on openly transgender people serving only ended at the end of last month. 

The queer community hailed the decision as “momentous.” Scott Wiener, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who’d campaigned for Milk to receive the prestigious honor since 2012, called it “an incredible day for the LGBT community and for our country.”

This momentous decision sends a powerful message around the world about who we are as a country and the values we hold,” Wiener said via a statement posted to Medium.

“When Harvey Milk served in the military, he couldn’t tell anyone who he truly was,” added Wiener, who himself is openly gay and holds Milk’s former seat on the board. “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.”

The Harvey Milk Foundation also praised the move. “Hope is never silent and will be represented in a world port soon via the USNS Harvey Milk,” a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday read.

Stuart Milk, the Californian politician’s nephew and co-founder of the foundation, said he had “joyful tears thinking of the meaning and symbolism” of the Navy’s gesture.

The LGBTQ pioneer came from a naval family and served on the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake from 1951 to 1955, NBC San Francisco reports. He was honorably discharged at lieutenant junior grade. 

Milk moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California after winning election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

He was assassinated, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, at the city hall by former Supervisor Dan White on Nov. 27, 1978. Milk was wearing his Navy belt buckle when he was killed.

The USNS Harvey Milk is yet to be built. But it will be part of a fleet of six new ships which will all bear the names of other civil rights champions — including women’s rights activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

The idea of lending Milk’s name to a Navy ship has not been without criticism, however. When it was first proposed, critics said Milk’s opposition to the Vietnam War should see him remembered in a more fitting way.

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