The Navy christened the USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler named after a Navy veteran and one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials.
"This great ship honors #NavyDiver & #CivilRights activist Harvey Milk who was forced out of the service due to unfair policies," the Office of the Navy Secretary tweeted Saturday. "Because of him, today our #LGBTQ #Sailors & #Marines serve honorably as their genuine selves."
Former Navy officer Paula Neira, clinical program director for the John Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship's bow before the launch Saturday into San Diego Bay.
Milk was 48 years old and a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978. The shooter, former supervisor Dan White, was angered when Moscone declined to reappoint him to the board.
Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Milk joined the Navy in 1951 during the Korean War, serving four years as an officer and dive instructor. During his time in the military, LGBTQ service members were not allowed to acknowledge their sexuality. Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy because he was gay.
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Stuart Milk and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro attended the launch ceremony.
"The secretary of the Navy needed to be here today, not just to amend the wrongs of the past, but to give inspiration to all of our LGBTQ community leaders who served in the Navy, in uniform today and in the civilian workforce as well," Del Toro said. "To tell them that we’re committed to them in the future."
The ship will provide "underway replenishment" of fuel to Navy ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers. The ship is about 677 feet long and holds 180,000 barrels of aviation and diesel fuel.
The ship's traditional “sponsors” are Neira and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Feinstein was in City Hall when Milk and Moscone were shot and publicly announced their deaths a short time later.
Feinstein was unable to attend the launch but said in a letter read at the ceremony that the ship “will carry a rich legacy of civic leadership."
“When the Harvey Milk sails, she will send a very strong message both domestically and around the globe to everybody that believes in freedom and justice and liberty," Neira said. "That there is a place for you in this family.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Navy christens ship USNS Harvey Milk after gay rights activist