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Harvey Milk: The pioneer politician
02:49 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A Navy ship named for gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was made to resign from the force because of his sexual orientation, was launched in San Diego Saturday.

The USNS Harvey Milk is a replenishment oiler, which refuels aircraft carriers at sea.

“He made a difference. That’s the kind of naval leader that we need,” said Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro during the christening ceremony.

The ship was co-sponsored by US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who was the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when Milk served on the board. She publicly announced Milk’s assassination in 1978 at the age of 48. He was the first openly gay elected official in the state of California.

USNS Harvey Milk departs the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard after a ceremonial address in San Diego, California on November 6.

The christening was attended by Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk, who is the co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation. Because of Covid-19 protocols, the event was not open to the public.

The USNS Harvey Milk is one of the oilers in a class named after Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, which also includes vessels named for Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone and Robert F. Kennedy.

Who was Harvey Milk?

Milk served in the Navy as a diving officer during the Korean War, at a time when gay service members were not allowed to openly acknowledge their sexuality.

During his time as a diving instructor in San Diego, California, in the 1950s, his supervisors caught him at a park popular with gay men, according to his nephew Stuart Milk.

In 1955, after the Navy officially questioned him about his sexual orientation, he was made to resign with the rank of lieutenant junior grade.

Milk was one of the first openly gay politicians elected to office in the United States, and the first openly gay official elected in California.

After moving from New York to California, Milk helped start the Castro Village Association, one of the first predominantly LGBTQ-owned business groups in the country. In 1977, he was elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

While serving as a city supervisor, Milk introduced legislation to protect the gay community, including a gay rights ordinance in 1978 to ban discrimination against LGBTQ in housing or employment. He and other activists also succeeded in striking down Proposition 6, which would have mandated the firing of gay or lesbian teachers in California.

Less than a year after Milk was inaugurated as city supervisor, he and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death in the San Francisco City Hall by a former fellow city supervisor over a job dispute.

When his killer was sentenced to seven years, riots broke out over what many perceived to be a lenient sentence.

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur and Amy Woodyatt contributed reporting.