The Navy christened the USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler named after a Navy veteran and one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials.

“This great ship honors #NavyDiver & #CivilRights activist Harvey Milk who was forced out of the service due to unfair policies,” the Office of the Navy Secretary tweeted Saturday. “Because of him, today our #LGBTQ #Sailors & #Marines serve honorably as their genuine selves.”

Paula Neira (ex-Navy officer), was the clinical program director for John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health. She smashed the champagne bottle on the bow of the ship before Saturday’s launch into San Diego Bay. 

Milk was 48 years old and a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978. Dan White, a former supervisor, became angry when Moscone decided not to resign him from the board.

Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Milk joined the Navy in 1951 during the Korean War, serving four years as an officer and dive instructor. During his time in the military, LGBTQ service members were not allowed to acknowledge their sexuality. Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy because he was gay.

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The launch ceremony was attended by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Stuart Milk.

Del Toro explained that “the secretary of Navy had to be here today not only to rectify the wrongs in the past but also to give inspiration and support to all our LGBTQ community leaders, who served in Navy uniform today as well as in civilian work.” “To tell them that we’re committed to them in the future.”

The ship will provide “underway replenishment” of fuel to Navy ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers. It measures approximately 677 feet in length and can hold 180,000 barrels aviation or diesel fuel.

The ship’s traditional “sponsors” are Neira and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Feinstein was in City Hall when Milk and Moscone were shot and publicly announced their deaths a short time later.

Feinstein was unable to attend the launch but said in a letter read at the ceremony that the ship “will carry a rich legacy of civic leadership.” 

“When the Harvey Milk sails, she will send a very strong message both domestically and around the globe to everybody that believes in freedom and justice and liberty,” Neira said. “That there is a place for you in this family.” 

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