U.S. Navy Christens its First Ship Named After an Openly Gay Officer

usns harvey milk
Courtesy USN

Published Nov 8, 2021 7:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Harvey Milk was christened and launched in a ceremony at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. The vessel is the first U.S. Navy ship named for an openly gay person.

The event was attended by the family of the ship’s namesake, as well as Carlos Del Torro, Secretary of the Navy; former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus; Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer, Commander of Military Sealift Command; and Todd Gloria, Mayor of San Diego.
The ship honors Navy veteran and LGBT activist Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay candidates elected to public office in the United States. He served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for 10 months, but his term ended in tragedy. On November 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by former City Supervisor Dan White, who had recently resigned and had been replaced. Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

“The Secretary of the Navy needed to be here today, not just to amend the wrongs of the past, but to give inspiration to all of our LGBTQ community leaders who served in the Navy, in uniform today and in the civilian workforce as well too, and to tell them that we’re committed to them in the future,” said Secretary Del Toro, noting that Milk resigned his commission and was discharged from the Navy for being gay. “For far too long, sailors like Lt. j.g. 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 continue to serve in the face of injustice.”

USNS Milk is the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet replenishment oilers. This class of oilers can carry 162,000 barrels of bunker fuel and aviation fuel, along with dry stores. The Lewis-class will replace the current Kaiser-class oilers as they age out of the MSC fleet. 

Five more ships in the class are on order, all named for prominent civil rights activists and leaders, including Earl Warren, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone and Robert F. Kennedy.