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Navy Launches Ship Named for Pioneering Gay San Francisco Leader Harvey Milk

SAN DIEGO (CBS SF) -- A Navy ship named for slain gay rights icon Harvey Milk was launched in San Diego Bay on Saturday.

The USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler, was christened with a traditional champagne bottle break alongside the hull by Paula Neira, clinical program director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health.

"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," Neira said in a news release from General Dynamics NASSCO, which built the ship for the Navy.

Navy Ship Harvey Milk
USMC Colonel Alison Thompson, left, talks with Jenn Onofrio, center, a White House Fellow to the Secretary of the Navy and Patrik Gallineaux, right, of the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation prior to the launching of the USNS Harvey Milk. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk, told those gathered at Saturday's launch that his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in 1955 after being questioned about his sexual orientation.

Harvey Milk came from a Navy family and had been proud to carry on that tradition, Stuart Milk said. One of his uncle's dreams was for military service members to "serve with authenticity and not be forced to hide who they were or who they loved," he said.

Navy Ship Harvey Milk
David Campos, left, vice chair of the California Democratic Party, takes a selfie with Nicole Murray-Ramirez, center, an LGBT activist, holding a photo of Harvey Milk and Bevan Dufty, right, director of the San Francisco Bay area rapid transit district, prior to the launching of the USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler ship Nov. 6, 2021 in San Dieg.. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Milk, elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White inside San Francisco City Hall.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said he was honored to be at Saturday's christening of the USNS Harvey Milk.

"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," Del Toro said.

Navy Ship Harvey Milk
The U.S. Navy launches the USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler ship in San Diego, Nov. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Del Toro told Stuart Milk that "the example that your uncle set, for all Americans, the life that he led in the Navy, the life he led afterward, is truly exemplary."

General Dynamics built the ship, a 742-foot-long oiler designed to transfer fuel to U.S. Navy carrier strike group ships operating at sea. The John Lewis-class oilers have the capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and up to a speed of 20 knots.

"We are justifiably proud of every ship we build, but this one is special because of her namesake," said David Carver, president of General Dynamics NASSCO.

In addition to the christening of the USNS Harvey Milk, two ships in the fleet oiler program for the U.S. Navy -- the future USNS Earl Warren and the future USNS Robert F. Kennedy -- are currently under construction. The lead ship, the future USNS John Lewis was launched earlier this year.

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