Navy Ship To Be Named For Harvey Milk. Right Thing To Do?

How do you honor one of our most well known and loved civil / LGBT rights leaders?  We reported in May of this year BLVD Dedicated To Harvey Milk In Salt Lake City.   We thought that was a wonderful honor.  We may have mixed feelings about the newest way the nation has chosen to honor such an influential man.

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, 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.” –

So do we abide by his personal and family history of serving in the military and accept this honor as a good thing? 

Do we stress his anti-war, anti-military stance toward the end of his career / life and say this is wrong?

What about the other civil rights leaders that will receive the same honor.  Do we consider their individual stances on war and the military?


The July 14, 2016 notification, signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, indicated he intended to name a planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO-206). The ship would be the second of the John Lewis-class oilers being built by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, Calif.

Mabus has said the John Lewis-class – named after civil rights activist and congressman Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) – would be named after civil rights leaders.

Mabus has also named ships in the past for other civil rights icons, including the Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ships USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE-13) and USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE-14). –

I am sure it's not the same as the Indian Navy naming a ship after Gandhi. 

What do you think?  Is it the right thing to do?  Is it a weird honor?



h/t:  and

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