Make way for the USS Harvey MilkFeature Story Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Group mounts national campaign for U.S. Navy ship in honor of slain civil rights leader
Congressman Bob Filner has joined with several prominent LGBT civil rights leaders from San Diego and across the country, calling on the U.S. Navy to name “ … the next appropriate ship after Harvey Milk.”
The late civil rights icon, Harvey Milk, was a Navy veteran who began his service during the Korean War. In Korea, he served aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake as a diving officer. Milk was also stationed at Naval Station, San Diego where he was a diving instructor. Milk, whose parents both also served in the U.S. Navy, was honorably discharged at the rank of Lieutenant, junior grade.
The GLBT Historic Task Force (the Task Force) of San Diego County sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, last week, requesting that Harvey Milk be considered as the namesake of a naval submarine, carrier or other vessel named “in his honor and memory.”
San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez a longtime gay- and Latino-rights activist and chair of the Task Force, announced the launch of a national campaign in partnership with the Harvey Milk Foundation and the International Court System (a charitable-services membership organization with chapters in 68 cities worldwide).
The Task Force is also leading a movement to make San Diego the first city in the U.S. to name a street in honor of Milk. “We in San Diego are very proud that Harvey Milk was stationed in our city and fell in love with California here,” said Murray Ramirez, who has served the last five mayors of San Diego. Murray Ramirez was a friend of Harvey Milk in the 1970s and is co-chair of the Harvey Milk Foundation’s International Advisory Council.
Acting at the behest of the Task Force, Rep. Filner urged top military officials to support the naming of a naval vessel in honor of Milk. In letters to Secretary Mabus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Filner wrote, “I … urge the Dept. of the Navy to name the next appropriate ship after Harvey Milk.”
Congressman Filner, whose district is in San Diego, also stated that “this action would be a fitting tribute to Mr. Milk’s support for equality, an ideal exemplified in the military’s recent repeal of its former Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.” Fittingly, the congressman is past chair and the current ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Harvey Milk’s father, William Milk, served on a submarine during World War II. His mother, Minerva Karns, was an early feminist activist who joined the Yeomanettes, a group agitating for the inclusion of women in the U.S. Navy during World War I.
“We have launched a national letter-writing campaign to the secretary of the Navy whose decision it is when it comes to naming Navy vessels,” said Murray Ramirez. On another front, Murray Ramirez serves as national chair of an ongoing letter campaign that is striving to convince the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp in honor of Harvey Milk.
“The U.S. Postal Selection Committee has informed us that Harvey Milk will be put into consideration for the possibility of a stamp in his honor,” said Murray Ramirez, who works with Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk and the Harvey Milk Foundation to preserve Milk’s legacy and to “also continue his work.”
Stuart Milk believes naming a navy vessel after his late uncle would serve as a demonstration of core American values.
“On behalf of both the Harvey Milk Foundation and the Milk family, it is inspiring to be joined by leadership in San Diego as we work together in support of the naming of a U.S. Navy ship after my uncle, Harvey Milk,” said Stuart Milk in a written statement provided to San Diego LGBT Weekly. “As an American hero who proudly wore the uniform of a Naval officer, the naming of a major vessel after Harvey will add that most American value of equality and democracy to the proud message of inclusion for which military service now exemplifies.”
According to Stuart Milk, the christening of a ship as USS Harvey Milk would boost the military’s image, while also boosting a sense of esteem among its gay, lesbian and bisexual members. The task force has not specified what kind of vessel should be named after Milk.
“This action by the secretary of the Navy 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,” Milk stated.
Murray Ramirez likened Harvey Milk to other civil rights leaders of the 20th century.
“As a person of color I am proud of the legacy of César Chávez and Martin Luther King,” he said. “It’s long overdue that Harvey Milk takes his rightful place in the history of our great nation.”
In 2009, Harvey Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Milk was further enshrined in officialdom when the state of California designated May 22 “Harvey Milk Day.” Milk was also inducted into the California Hall of Fame.
“I urge all Americans to write to the secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus and urge him to name a ship after Harvey Milk,” said Murray Ramirez, who is a contributor to LGBT Weekly.
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