The United States Navy christened and launched the USNS Harvey Milk Saturday, November 6. Stuart Milk, nephew of the ship’s namesake and Co-Founder and President of the Harvey Milk Foundation, served as the principal speaker at the ceremony, with additional remarks from the ship’s designer and creator NASSCO and U.S. Navy representatives.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Paula Neira, Navy Veteran and Clinical Program Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health were the ship’s sponsors. Prior to launching the 742-foot-long ship down the ways, Neira christened the ship with the traditional champagne bottle break alongside the hull.
“We are justifiably proud of every ship we build, but this one is special because of her namesake. Today, we are honoring [a] life of selfless service, his hope for equality, and a world without hate,” said David Carver, president of General Dynamics NASSCO. “On behalf of the 35-hundred employees of General Dynamics NASSCO, I am proud to present the … USNS Harvey Milk for christening.”
Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus declared the John Lewis-class of oilers be named after leaders who fought for civil and human rights. The second of six ships honors Milk, an LGBTQ rights activist who dedicated his life to advocating for equality.
Milk served as a Lieutenant on the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake during the Korean War, but was eventually forced to leave military service because he was a gay man. After two weeks of interrogation about his sexual orientation in 1955, he was given a dishonorable discharge.
In 1977 he rose to notoriety as one of America’s very first openly gay politicians to be elected to public office when he became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
In a shocking turn of events, he was assassinated on November 27, 1978, along with then Mayor George Moscone, by Dan White, a former city supervisor.
Speaking at the ceremony for the ship launching nearly 43 years after Milk’s death, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said that it was wrong Milk had been forced to “mask that very important part of his life” during his time in the Navy.
“Leaders like Harvey Milk taught us that diversity of backgrounds and experiences help contribute to the strength and resolve of our nation,” Del Toro said. “There is no doubt that the future sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy.”
The U.S. Navy hired the company General Dynamics/NASSCO for the detailed design and construction of the next generation of fleet oilers, known as the John Lewis-class (T-AO 205). The contract calls for the design and construction of six 742-foot-long oilers with a full load displacement of 49,850 tons. Designed to transfer fuel to U.S. Navy carrier strike group ships operating at sea, the oilers have the capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and cruising up to a speed of 20 knots.
“The christening of the USNS Harvey Milk marks another historic milestone in the history of our Navy and our country. Harvey Milk’s words and actions brought hope and inspiration to many for whom our nation’s lofty rhetoric of equality and inclusion were not yet reality,” said ship sponsor Paula Neira. “Today, while we must continue to carry on his work, and much work still needs to be done, by christening and launching this ship we honor his legacy, celebrate the progress that has been made in advancing diversity and inclusion for so many, and we know that wherever the USNS Harvey Milk will sail, she will bring that message of hope and inspiration to present and future generations.”