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U.S. Navy ship to be named after gay rights leader

New fleet of oilers will be named for Milk, 5 other civil rights icons

1930: Politician and activist Harvey Milk, the first non-incumbent openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office, is born in Woodmere, New York. Milk, who had previously run unsuccessfully for public office
1930: Politician and activist Harvey Milk, the first non-incumbent openly gay man in the United States to win an election for public office, is born in Woodmere, New York. Milk, who had previously run unsuccessfully for public office (Harvey Milk Foundation)

SAN FRANCISCO – The late gay rights leader Harvey Milk already has schools, streets and parks named in his honor. Soon, a U.S. Navy ship will join the list.

It's a sign of the changing times for the military as the Navy intends to name a new ship for a gay rights leader who was assassinated almost four decades ago.

A Navy official said Friday that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus notified Congress this month that a new fleet of replenishment oilers will be named for Milk and five other civil rights icons. Once commissioned, USNS Harvey Milk will be part of the John Lewis class of fleet oilers. The fleet is named after Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a longtime civil rights leader.

Milk was the first openly gay politician and activist to be elected to office. He was a San Francisco supervisor.

Milk served in the Navy as a dive instructor in San Diego during the Korean War.

He was serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when a former political colleague assassinated him and Mayor George Moscone in 1978.

"He didn’t profess his open homosexuality until his 40s, so to tie the Navy to his activism as an LGBT individual, it’s been a number of years that the California politicians and the LGBT community have been trying to get Mr. Milk’s name, named to a ship," said political activist Jennifer Carroll. "Now these class of ships are known as the John Lewis oiler class. John Lewis, because of his civil rights activism, so these ships for these oilers are named after people that were involved in civil rights activities. So we have Sojourner Truth, we have former Supreme Court Justice Warren, and even Robert Kennedy that are among those among that class of ships."

Milk’s family released a statement, saying naming the ship after Milk "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."