Obama’s Navy to name ship for gay activist Harvey Milk

Obama’s Navy to name ship for gay activist Harvey Milk
Rep. John Lewis and SECNAV Ray Mabus celebrate the naming of USNS John Lewis in January 2016. (Image: Facebook, John Lewis via MyFox5DC)

The U.S. Naval Institute reports that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will be naming a Military Sealift Command support ship after slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, a 1970s crusader for gay issues.

The ship class is the John Lewis class “fleet oiler,” and USNS Harvey Milk will be T-AO-206, the second unit of the class.

In company with Milk and John Lewis, the admired civil rights leader, will be Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who is credited with jump-starting the Supreme Court in a career of political activism; Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s brother and attorney general, assassinated in 1968 during a presidential run; Lucy Stone, the first American woman to obtain a college degree, and an activist for abolition and women’s rights; and Sojourner Truth, the remarkable former slave who also became a fiery abolitionist and civil rights activist.

The “official Harvey Milk biography” offers this summary:

He attended [Naval] Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and subsequently was based in San Diego, where he served as a diving instructor. In 1955, he was discharged with the rank of lieutenant junior grade.

Following his time in the Navy, Milk entered the civilian working world in New York, as a public school teacher on Long Island, as a stock analyst in New York City, and as a production associate for Broadway musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair. During the 1960s and early 70s, he became more actively involved in politics and advocacy and he demonstrated against the Vietnam War.

Late 1972, Milk moved to San Francisco, where he opened a camera store on Castro Street, in the heart of the city’s growing gay community. It quickly became a neighborhood center. Milk’s sense of humor and theatricality made him a popular figure. Little more than a year after his arrival in the city, he declared his candidacy for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost that race, but emerged from the campaign as a force to be reckoned with in local politics.

The Biography.com page for Harvey Milk has other details:

Following his discharge in 1955, Milk moved to New York City, where he worked a variety of jobs, including public school teacher, production associate for several high-profile Broadway musicals, stock analyst and Wall Street investment banker. He soon tired of finance, though, and befriended gay radicals who frequented Greenwich Village. …

In 1977, Milk, who was known affectionately as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” finally won a seat on the San Francisco City-County Board. He was inaugurated on January 9, 1978, becoming the city’s first openly gay officer, as well as one of the first openly gay individuals to be elected to office in the United States.

Harvey Milk was assassinated by a former city-county board member, Dan White, in November 1978.  White also took the life of Mayor George Moscone that day.  A former police officer, White was opposed to the political direction he felt Moscone and Milk were taking the city, including Moscone’s repeal of San Francisco’s anti-sodomy law.  White was convicted of manslaughter rather than capital murder, after famously pleading the “Twinkie defense.”  He committed suicide himself in 1985, shortly after his release from prison.

The manslaughter conviction provoked riots in the Castro Street gay community, which were dubbed the “White Night Riots.”

The ships of the Military Sealift Command are manned by civilian merchant mariners.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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