Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, recently notified Congress that the U.S. Navy will soon name a fleet oiler (like the one pictured above) after Harvey Milk, the slain gay civil rights leader who was the the first openly gay elected official in a major U.S. city. But considering that Milk was also an anti-war activist, perhaps putting his name on a military vessel is a bad way to commemorate him?
A fleet oiler is “a logistics ship that replenishes other ships with fuel and in some cases food, mail, ammunition and other necessities while at sea.” According to Advocate.com, most of the vessel’s estimated 95 crew-members will be civilians making the ship more supportive than combative.
But Milk’s military legacy is a bit complicated. His parents both served in the Navy; his mom was a “yeomanette”(basically a petty officer) during World War I. Harvey himself served in the Navy in 1951 (his military photo is above); this was during a time when homosexuals were routinely harassed, court-martialed and given dishonorable discharges and dismissals with no veteran benefits. Milk served as a diving officer on a submarine rescue ship in San Diego during the Korean War. In 1955, he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant junior grade.
Former District 5 San Francisco City Supervisor Christina Olague initially supported the push to get Milk’s name on a military vessel, but later withdrew her support saying, “I heard from a lot of people who actually knew him. He had an anti-war, anti-military philosophy toward the end of his life.” Olague is a bisexual.
Current San Francisco City District 9 Supervisor David Campos also withdrew his support, stating, “Many, including some who knew Harvey, feel that there are better ways to honor Harvey Milk.” Campos is openly gay.
Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk said that naming a vessel after his uncle “will further send a green light to all the brave men and women who serve our nation that honesty, acceptance and authenticity are held up among the highest ideals of our military.”
Concurrently, the Navy is planning to name other vessels after varied civil rights heroes including “former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren whose court ruled to desegregate U.S. schools, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, women’s right activist Lucy Stone and abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.”