SAN DIEGO -- Construction began Friday on the future Harvey Milk, a fleet oiler named for the slain gay rights leader and the first openly gay man elected in California.
Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1978 and was assassinated 10 months later by an ex-supervisor. His life was the subject of the 2008 film "Milk."
Almost 30 years before his election, Milk was a Navy dive officer based in San Diego. His nephew, Stuart Milk, attended Friday's event and said naming the ship after his uncle sends a message to people around the world.
"(This) sends a global message of inclusion more powerful than simply 'We'll tolerate everyone,'" Milk said. "(It says) We celebrate everyone."
Milk said his uncle was forced to resign from the Navy in the 1950s after being caught in a San Diego park popular with gay men. To be honored now with a ship showed how much things have changed, he said.
Stuart Milk was speaking at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, where the ship is being built. He was joined by NASSCO representatives and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, and San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate.
Gloria told The San Diego Union-Tribune that progress for gay and lesbian service members has been swift.
"I was a congressional staffer when we were working to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' and you think about how difficult a challenge that was," he said, refer to the military's ban on out LGBT service members that was repealed in 2010.
"Today the Navy's constructing a ship named after the first openly gay elected official in California," he said. "It shows the progress we're making and a deepening of the commitment the military has to including gay and lesbian service members."
Nicole Murray Ramirez, the chairman and executive director of the San Diego International Imperial Court Council, an LGBT organization, was a leader in the push to name a vessel after Milk.