The USNS Harvey Milk is more than 60 percent completed, the Navy revealed as it allowed dignitaries, officials, and Milk’s nephew to tour the ship’s skeleton this week. The ship is named after gay rights icon Harvey Milk, a former Navy officer who was forced to resign after his superiors found out he was gay.
The news of its progress comes just in time for Harvey Milk Day, which is being observed around the world today, May 22, his birthday.
At least two tours were privately held earlier this week in San Diego, where the ship is being constructed. The first tour on May 18 welcomed veterans of the gay rights movement and LGBTQ San Diego leaders. The second on May 21 welcomed several leaders and LGBTQ people from the California community.
The invited parties to the first tour included Stuart Milk, Milk’s nephew and the co-Founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, and former out San Francisco supervisor Bevan Dufty. The second included out San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria (D), Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA), and retired Navy veteran Morgan M. Hurley, who chaired the LGBTQ Veterans Wall of Honor organization.
“I started crying. It is gorgeous,” Nicole Murray Ramirez, a city human rights commissioner who advocated for the naming of the ship, told the Bay Area Reporter.
According to Murray Ramirez, Navy officials reported that the USNS Harvey Milk will be ready to launch this November. Murray Ramirez hopes to have “big celebrations and events for the first Navy ship in the world being named after a gay man and a soldier who was forced to resign because he was gay.”
“The naming of the USNS Harvey Milk is historic for multiple reasons — including that it’s the first military ship named after a service member who was given an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy; but most importantly to me — because it tells the world that our nation now honors and supports LGBTQ individuals,” Eddie Rey, the Executive Director of the Equality Business Alliance (EBA), said.
“It is my hope that someday the military will reverse and rectify the wrongful ‘Other Than Honorable Discharge’ given to thousands of our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, and siblings. As for Harvey Milk — I believe his other than honorable discharge and the naming of a ship — is a powerful message on its own.”
In celebration of #HarveyMilkDay I joined fellow LGBTQ officials to tour the USNS Harvey Milk under construction at San Diego’s @GDNASSCO. What an amazing tribute to this American trailblazer and Navy veteran. I look forward to its christening later this year. pic.twitter.com/HWn9iZ4bfl
— Todd Gloria (@ToddGloria) May 22, 2021
Before Milk became one of the first out elected officials in America and a vocal proponent for gay rights, he served in the Navy, where he was court-martialed and discharged on February 7, 1955, 22 years before he would win election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Milk famously exhorted gays and lesbians to “come out,” saying it was the way to change the average American’s views on homosexuality.
“We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions,” he said in a speech. “We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.”
Milk was killed by former city supervisor Dan White. White also murdered Mayor George Moscone at the same time.
White infamously used the “Twinkie Defense,” saying that he had fallen into a deep depression after losing his seat on the board and had started eating sugary food before he went on his killing spree. A jury found White guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder based on the outlandish defense; he served five years in prison for the murders.
After the verdict broke on May 21, 1979, the public organized a peaceful march in San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District. What started as 500 people grew to a crowd of approximately 5,000. When the police showed up, the crowd grew increasingly angry. The police had raised over $100,000 for White’s defense, as he was a former police officer.
The crowd marched to City Hall. The officers, who were ordered to hold the crowd back, began attacking marchers with nightsticks. When protestors destroyed several police cars and parts of City Hall, officers used tear gas to stop the riot, and the crowd dispersed. The officers’ badges were taped over so their names could not be read.
Later that night, the police took to Castro Street, raiding a gay bar and attacking people on the streets, many of whom had participated in the march. Fifty-nine police officers and 124 protestors were injured. Two dozen people were arrested.
In 2012, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors urged the Secretary of the Navy to name a ship after Milk. In 2016, the military branch announced that they would name the new ships after civil rights icons – including Milk.
The Navy started construction on the ship in December 2019. It is the first of six ships that will be in the John Lewis fleet class, led by the USNS John Lewis, named after the civil rights leader of the same name.
Other ships will be named after suffragist Lucy Stone, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, Supreme Court justice Earl Warren, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect a more accurate quote from Eddie Rey than previously included.