A Navy ship named for Harvey Milk

The next ship in the Navy’s fleet could be named USS Harvey Milk if a San Diego County congressman has his way.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, along with The GLBT Historic Task Force of San Diego County, are urging leaders to name the “next appropriate ship” after the slain San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Letters were sent last week to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus urging them to honor Milk in the same way they have done with other civil-rights leaders like Cesar Chavez and Medgar Evers. Specifically, they requested that Milk be considered as the namesake of a naval submarine, carrier or other vessel named “in his honor and memory.”

Milk is best known for becoming one of the first openly gay men to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The following year, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a political rival.

The late civil rights icon joined the United States Navy in 1951 during the Korean War. He served as a diving officer aboard the submarine rescue ship, USS Kittiwake, and later stationed in San Diego as a diving instructor. He was discharged from the Navy at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade in 1955.

The GLBT Historic Task Force is also pushing to make San Diego the first city in the U.S. to name a street in honor of Milk. Murray Ramirez, a friend of Milk in the 1970s and co-chair of the Harvey Milk Foundation’s International Advisory Council, said:

“We in San Diego are very proud that Harvey Milk was stationed in our city and fell in love with California here.”

Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew, believes that if the Navy named a ship after his uncle it would help instill a sense of esteem among the military’s gay, lesbian and bisexual members. He told LGBT Weekly:

“This action by the US Secretary of the Navy 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.”

Filner’s request follows a series of controversial ship namings that has caused Congress to ask Mabus for a report due in June detailing the process that Navy uses to name ships.

Mabus responded to complaints that the choice of Chavez and the Evers was political by noting that the class of ships, whether it be cargo or ammunition, is typically named for pioneers, visionaries and explorers.