The US Navy is naming a ship after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk

Anchors away.
Anchors away.
Image: US Navy photo
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Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the US, had an ambitious vision of equality and gay rights, but even he may not have foreseen this.

In a sign of how quickly LGBT rights have moved in recent years, the US Navy, which just six years ago was kicking sailors out of the service for being gay, is naming a ship after Milk. The USNS Harvey Milk was honored in a naming ceremony yesterday (Aug. 16). It is the first Naval vessel named for an openly gay leader.

The ship, expected to be launched in 2018,  is part of the “John Lewis” class of six new oil tankers. Each is being named after civil rights figures, including Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman; Robert Kennedy, the former US attorney general; Lucy Stone, a suffragist; Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist; and Earl Warren, a former US Supreme Court justice.

While ships in the past have been named after admirals and presidents, it’s “important to recognize those who fought in a different way, who fought for the ideals we value as a country,” secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said at the ceremony, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Milk, a gay rights activist, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 before he and the city’s mayor, George Moscone, were assassinated later that year.

Milk served in the Korean War as a diving officer aboard a submarine. He left the Navy with an “other than honorable discharge,” which he may have accepted to avoid disciplinary action for fraternizing with enlisted sailors, according to the Associated Press.

Gay men and women were barred from the military until 1994, when a policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented under then-president Bill Clinton. That law, which still led to the ouster of thousands of service people, was repealed in 2011.

Mabus has urged sailors booted from the Navy under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to have their records reviewed to have their discharge upgraded.