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All Aboard the USNS Harvey Milk! Navy Names Ship After Gay Rights Icon

Good riddance, Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

US Navy portrait of then-Ensign Harvey Milk, who was ranked lieutenant junior grade when he was honorably discharged in 1955.


When the late San Francisco supervisor and gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk served in the Navy in the early 1950s, during the Korean War, he couldn’t tell anyone that he was gay. Milk, a diving officer on the submarine rescue ship Kittiwake, was honorably discharged in 1955. And, as we all know, he went on to become the first openly gay politician elected in California. The Navy was a part of who he was; he was wearing his US Navy diver’s belt when he was assassinated at City Hall in 1978.

Now, the Navy has finally returned the favor and acknowledged Milk—the gay man, not just the naval officer—as a part of who it is. Today the US Naval Institute News reveals that the Navy will name a planned ship after Milk, the USNS Harvey Milk. USNS Harvey, as we can’t help but think of it, will be part of a class of ships named for civil rights leaders. The Milk vessel will be in good company alongside USNS Earl Warren, USNS Robert F. Kennedy, and USNS Sojourner Truth.

The naming comes four years after the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking the Navy to name a ship after Milk. (At the time, Milk purportedly responded, via Ouija Board, “G-o-o-d-R-i-d-d-a-n-c-e-D-A-D-T,” or “Good riddance, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Ghost Milk might have also added, “Maybe don’t pursue that comedy career, John Avalos,” if any of that had been real).

But yes, “Good riddance, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the general feeling today (and every day, whenever we think about it). “This momentous decision sends a powerful message around the world about who we are as a country and the values we hold,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the 2012 resolution, said in a statement. “Now our country is telling the men and women who serve, and the entire world, that we honor and support people for who they are.”  

Given that Milk wasn't much of a drinker—and the champagne-smashing thing is really for yachts anyway—we'll just picture a lukewarm cup of coffee sailing toward the bow.


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