The U.S. Navy will name an oiler ship after Harvey Milk, the first gay person to be elected to a public office in California. The Congress notified the event after an LGBT campaign that honored Harvey Milk’s memory and LGBT people who have served in the armed forces, as reported by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The ship is part of the John Lewis-class Oilers built in San Diego, California. All John Lewis-class ships will be named after civil rights activists, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, women’s rights activist Lucy Stone, abolitionist Sojourner Truth and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, an advocate of desegregation.

Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk’s portrait by Daniel Nicoletta. Image credit: Daniel Nicoletta.

Harvey Milk: gay civil rights activist

Harvey Milk’s family had served in the Navy, which is why he signed up for service in 1951. He was deployed to Korea as a submarine officer for four years. Milk was honorably discharged, several years later, he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

Born in New York to a Jewish family, he had a plentiful childhood with future in teaching before he decided to join the military. After being discharged, he started to work in schools and briefly delved in finance. Eventually, Milk became bored of New York’s eclectic lifestyle. He moved to San Francisco in 1972 and opened a business called Castro Camera, on Castro Street.

Milk Poster
Harvey Milk’s life inspired the movie “Milk,” which was critically acclaimed. Image credit: Milk.

He started pursuing politics in San Francisco as Castro Camera became a popular meeting spot for the LGBT community. Harvey was seen as a leader and launched himself to the city’s Board of Supervisors. He lost the election two times in a row, but he kept on rallying support from the gay community. He brought the attention of politicians such as San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.

Murdered while in office

In 1977, Milk finally was elected to hold a seat in the San Francisco’s County Board. Supervisor Dan White resigned his position. Mayor Moscone convinced Milk to take the new seat. White was a conservative, convinced that Milk and Moscone betrayed him and his ideals, as homosexuality was still diagnosed as a sickness at the time.

The following year, White went to Moscone’s office. The conservative shot to death at Moscone and then killed Milk, who was 48 years old. White escaped to a diner and met with his wife. They later went to police and White turned himself in.

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Harvey Milk was first gay person to be elected to a public office in California. Image credit: The Huffington Post.

That evening, a candlelight vigil formed in Castro Street, stretching for a mile and a half. Thousands attended the mayor and Milk’s funeral services. All flags in California were flown half-staff, as ordered by Calif. Governor Jerry Brown, who referred to Harvey Milk as a “hard-working and dedicated supervisor, a leader of San Francisco’s gay community, who kept his promise to represent all his constituents.”

White was charged with voluntary manslaughter and served six years in prison. He committed suicide in 1985.

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” -Harvey Milk

Source: U.S. Naval Institute