One of the first openly gay politicians in the United States, who was assassinated four decades ago, will bear a ship in his name this weekend, as the US military seeks to keep pace with modern social attitudes.
USNS Harvey Milk honors a former Navy diver who served at a time when homosexuality was banned in the military, and who was later shot dead in San Francisco, months after winning public office.
The christening ceremony for the 227-meter (744-foot) supply ship in San Diego will take place on Saturday in the presence of Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.
“Leaders like Harvey Milk have taught us that a diversity of backgrounds and experiences contributes to the strength and resolve of our nation,” Del Toro said, according to a Navy press release.
“There is no doubt that future sailors aboard this ship will be inspired by Milk’s life and legacy.”
Milk, who was outspoken about his sexuality after his stint in the military, was elected to the San Francisco board of directors, where he was instrumental in passing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
A few months later, in 1978, Milk was gunned down along with Mayor George Moscone, by a disgruntled former city supervisor.
His killer, Dan White, pleaded diminished responsibility, claiming he suffered from depression and ate a lot of sugary foods, in what has been dubbed the “Twinkie Defense.”
White was convicted of intentional manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison, a verdict that sparked outrage, especially in the gay community of San Francisco.
Milk’s murder helped cement his reputation as a civil rights icon and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Navy announced five years ago that it would name a ship Milk, along with ships for civil rights leaders including abolitionist Sojourner Truth and suffragist Lucy Stone.
This isn’t the first official US tribute to Milk: in 2014, the US Post issued a stamp in his image, where he appeared smiling next to a rainbow flag.
Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the activist in the 2008 film “Milk”.
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