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United States & World

Navy names ship for LGBTQ leader Harvey Milk, almost 70 years after he was discharged

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Activist Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated just a year into his term.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

But before he became an activist and gay rights leader, Milk served in the Navy during the Korean War. He was discharged after four years because of questions about his sexuality.

KELLY: Now, almost seven decades later, the Navy is honoring Milk by naming a new supply ship in his honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAULA NEIRA: May God bless this ship and all who sail in her.

(CHEERING)

KELLY: Former Navy officer Paula Neira christened the ship.

NEIRA: 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 - that there is a place for you in this family.

CHANG: Members of the LGBTQ community haven't always been seen as part of the family in the military, a fact that Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro acknowledged at the christening of the ship.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLOS DEL TORO: For far too long, sailors like Lieutenant Milk were forced into the shadows or, worse yet, forced out of our beloved Navy. That injustice is part of our Navy history, but so is the perseverance of all who continued to serve in the face of injustice.

KELLY: That's something Harvey Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk, thinks should be remembered. He says the Navy approached him about reversing his uncle's dishonorable discharge. He says he decided against it as a reminder that not everyone was treated with honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STUART MILK: He was forced to resign because he was gay. But we have to teach our history to prevent ourselves from going backwards and repeating it.

CHANG: The USNS Harvey Milk is one of several new oilers named after civic and human rights activists. That ship will sail alongside ships named after other activists - Sojourner Truth, Representative John Lewis and Lucy Stone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.