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Ship Naming Vote Set for Harvey Milk Day

by Matthew S. Bajko
Monday May 21, 2012

San Francisco supervisors are set to vote on a resolution in support of naming a Navy vessel after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk next week as the state celebrates Milk's birthday.

At its meeting May 14 the Board of Supervisor's City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee recommended on a 2-1 vote that the supervisors endorse the proposal. LGBT leaders in San Diego, in conjunction with Milk's family and several friends, are urging Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to designate a ship the USS Harvey Milk.

The former San Francisco supervisor served in the Navy during the Korean War and was stationed in San Diego. Milk was a diving instructor and was discharged in 1955 at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

"He would have loved this and would have thought this was the greatest thing that could happen," said gay retired Naval Reserve Captain Bob Dockendorff, who knew Milk and is a former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. "I think he would have considered this a great honor."

But other progressive leaders are against having a warship named after Milk due to his opposition of the Vietnam War. Their arguments led bisexual District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague to vote against the resolution this week at the committee hearing. (District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu voted in support.)

"I received quite an outcry," explained Olague, who has suggested the navy instead name a vessel after Leonard Matlovich, a gay Air Force member who came out in a 1975 Time magazine cover story about the military's anti-gay policies.

As reported in last week's Bay Area Reporter , the concerns raised by progressives led gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos to also withdraw his support of the resolution submitted by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Olague introduced a separate resolution calling on Congress to declare May 22, Milk's birthday, a national holiday. Her resolution was unanimously approved by the board at its meeting Tuesday, May 15.

The board will take up Wiener's resolution at its meeting next Tuesday, which falls on Milk Day this year. California celebrates May 22 as a day of special significance in honor of Milk, who gained international notoriety after being killed by a former board colleague in 1978.

"Some have questioned the appropriateness of naming a warship after Harvey Milk. I respectfully disagree," said Wiener.

The proposal would not only honor "one of the most prominent gay men to serve in our nation's military," said Wiener, but would also be "inspirational" for LGBT service members.

It is up to the Navy secretary to decide the names for naval ships. Just last week Mabus announced the names for a Navy destroyer and two high-speed ferries.

"Every year the secretary of the Navy's office receives hundreds of recommendations from members of Congress, citizens, military members and retirees, industry leaders and others suggesting names for U.S. Navy ships. Secretary Mabus appreciates the interest of all who participate in the ship naming process and gives careful consideration to all inputs prior to designating ship names," Captain Pamela Kunze, a naval spokeswoman, told the B.A.R.

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