Andrew Dyer reports for The San Diego Union-Tribune that last Friday, December 13, 2019, General Dynamics began construction on the future U.S. Navy Ship (USNS) Harvey Milk, a fleet oiler named for the first openly homosexual man elected in California whom the U. S. Navy dishonorably discharged after being caught in a San Diego park popular with homosexual men.
Note: Fleet oilers like the future Harvey Milk are used to replenish fuel oil and dry goods to Navy ships at sea. Harvey Milk will be the second ship in the new John Lewis class of fleet oilers that will replace the 17 double-hulled Kaisers. The lead ship will be the USNS John Lewis (T-AO-205), named for Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia). All ships of the class are to be named after civil rights leaders. Below is an image of the naval oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser.
Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978 and was assassinated 10 months later by an ex-supervisor. His life was the subject of the 2008 film “Milk.” In August 2009, Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay rights movement.
Harvey’s nephew, Stuart Milk, attended Friday’s event at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, where the ship is being built. Stuart said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men. To be honored now with a ship showed how much things have changed and “sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply ‘We’ll tolerate everyone.’ (It says) We celebrate everyone.”
Stuart Milk was joined by NASSCO representatives and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, and San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward.
Nicole Murray Ramirez, the chairman and executive director of the San Diego International Imperial Court Council, an LGBT organization, was a leader in the push to name a vessel after Milk by organizing a national letter-writing campaign in 2011 to push Obama administration Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to name a ship for Milk. In July 2016, Mabus told Congress that he intended to name the second ship of the John Lewis-class oilers, the USNS Harvey Milk.
According to Wikipedia, Harvey Milk was born in 1930 in New York City to Lithuanian Jewish parents. In 1964 when Milk was 34 years old, he began “a romantic relationship” with a 16-year-old teen named Jack Galen McKinley who was prone to depression and threatened to commit suicide if Milk did not show him enough attention. The relationship ended in 1969.
That same year, Milk began a romantic relationship with 21-year-old Scott Smith, who later became Milk’s campaign manager for public office in California. The relationship lasted 7 years.
Around 1977, Milk took a new lover, a young man named Jack Lira, who was frequently drunk in public. Lira’s obituary says:
JACK LIRA was one of Harvey Milk’s string of young boy friends. Jack had an alcohol problem and many considered him an embarassment to Harvey’s image. In January 1978, he accompanied Harvey as he led a procession of supporters from Castro Street to his ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on the steps of City Hall…. [I]t became obvious to Harvey that he had to break off his relationship with Jack because Jack was becoming a liability to his job as San Francisco Supervisor. A few weeks later, Harvey came home to his Henry Street flat to find that Jack Lira had committed suicide by hanging himself on the back porch.
In 2013, reacting to the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to feature Harvey Milk on a postage stamp, Matt Barber of the evangelical Christian non-profit Liberty Counsel told One News Now (source: Huffington Post):
“Harvey Milk was known as a pederast. That’s a man who in his mid-30s had a sexual appetite for teenage boys as young as 15 years old. Harvey Milk was demonstrably, categorically an evil man based on his rape of teenage boys, And the fact that our U.S. government would be commemorating and recognizing him as some kind of hero really just boggles the mind.”