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    Launch of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk Marks Historic Veterans Day Observance

    By Eddie Reynoso–

    This year’s Veterans Day was observed across America by LGBTQ veterans who celebrated the 10th anniversary of the lifting of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban, the recent appointment of a transgender Navy Admiral, the first Veterans Day since Trump’s ban on transgender service was lifted, and the christening and launch of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk.

    At San Diego’s NASSCO General Dynamics shipyard—with all the pomp and circumstance of a red, white, and blue affair—American flags waved in the wind as a naval band welcomed the Harvey Milk family represented by Stuart Milk, global LGBTQ activist and cofounder of the Harvey Milk Foundation; Anne Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s campaign manager; and local electees and officials. Also in attendance at the historic launch of the U.S.N.S. Harvey Milk (a replenishment oiler and the first of its ships to be named for an openly gay leader) were top Naval officers, and government officials who included the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro.

    Though the traditions and the protocol of Navy christening ceremonies for their vessels do not waver, the christening and launch of the U.S.N.S Harvey Milk was nevertheless marked with many historic firsts.

    Openly transgender Navy officer, nurse, and lawyer Paula M. Neira, a clinical program director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, was given the honor of breaking the ceremonial champagne on the ship’s bow, christening the vessel and launching it into San Diego Bay.

    For the first time in history, the “principal address” or keynote speaker was an openly gay man: Stuart Milk, whose speech received a prolonged standing ovation as he touched on subjects that not one of the five speakers before him had acknowledged.

    Milk passionately spoke about how his uncle was dishonorably discharged and subjected to two weeks of naval interrogations and harassment. He also reminded those in attendance that his uncle was assassinated with a bullet through his head.

    “Stuart Milk’s speech was indeed a historic one and a refusal of his family and our LGBTQ community to let Harvey Milk’s military service and murder be sanitized by anyone,” stated longtime Latino/LGBTQ activist, City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez.

    In his speech, Milk also acknowledged “Our Queen Mother Nicole and the International Court System” for their leadership and letter writing campaign, which brought attention to Milk’s service, and pushed the Navy to name the ship after Harvey Milk.

    As Queen Mother of the Americas, Commissioner Murray Ramirez and the 70 Imperial Court Chapters led the national letter writing campaign to then Secretary of State Ray Mabus. It resulted in him naming the first vessel after an LGBTQ American. The Imperial Court System also led the successful campaign that resulted in the Harvey Milk U.S. postage stamp. The Imperial Court System is additionally co-sponsoring, along with The National LGBTQ Task Force and the Victory Fund Institute, the current campaign for U.S. postage stamps to be issued honoring Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and José Julio Sarria.

    The 2021 Veterans Day observance came shortly after the 10th anniversary of the lifting of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a policy that forced lesbian, gay, and bisexual military service members to hide their sexuality. The policy was passed in 1993 and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton as a compromise to end the existing ban on gay people serving. Over its 17-year implementation, an estimated 13,000 service members were discharged.

    In October of 2021, Dr. Rachel Levine was sworn in as the first openly transgender four-star officer in our nation’s history. Dr. Levine, who was appointed by President Biden, was already the highest ranking openly transgender official in the U.S. Dr. Levine’s appointment came in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s stance on LGBTQ issues and affirmed Biden’s campaign promise to end Trump’s transgender service ban.

    “Indeed, this Veterans Day observations are historic,” stated Commissioner Murray Ramirez. “As we continue to create a diverse and inclusive future that includes LGBTQ Americans in every sector of government, we must continue to push for the Equality Act, which will provide consistent non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the nation. Equally as important we must encourage every LGBTQ person to register to vote and go to the polls in next year’s mid-term elections,” added Commissioner Murray Ramirez.

    If passed, the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, financial credit, and jury service.

    Please act now by registering to vote ( http://lgbtqvoterregistrationday.com/) and contacting your Senators to urge them to vote for the Equality Act!

    Please also send the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee a letter of support for the LGBTQ Queens + Heroes Stamp Campaign! You can do so at: https://www.lgbtqueenstamps.org/support

    Eddie Reynoso is the Chair of the San Diego LGBTQ Historic Task Force and the Executive Director of the Equality Business Alliance, San Diego’s LGBTQ & Allied Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

    Published on November 18, 2021