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CNP: Pride Month Honors LGBTQ+ Perseverance in the Navy and Nation

30 June 2021

From MC1 Mark D. Faram, Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs.

As June and its Pride Month celebrations come to a close, it is only natural to reflect on the service of our LGBTQ+ shipmates - and how far they have come in being able to be themselves as they serve their country.

As June and its Pride Month celebrations come to a close, it is only natural to reflect on the service of our LGBTQ+ shipmates - and how far they have come in being able to be themselves as they serve their country.

For those who do not know or unsure, LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, though some add questioning. The "plus" adds more inclusiveness, representing other sexual identities.

Gays and lesbians have served in the military and the Navy since their inception. Serving as openly gay was only possible with the end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2011.

For transgender Sailors, the journey has continued.

On Jan. 25, just five days after taking office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order "All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve," Biden wrote.

An inclusive military strengthens national security, Biden added, by promoting a diverse all-volunteer force where all desiring to serve are allowed to, provided they meet the military's rigorous standards for service.

"For those who identify as LGBTQ+, it's been a long road getting here," Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr., the chief of naval personnel, said in a June 17 video message.

"This past year, specifically, has taught us that we can no longer accept intolerance, bigotry and racism in our Navy or our Nation. We need a diverse team with diverse life experiences.  A team that can outthink our adversaries, who continue to build their forces and are becoming more and more aggressive."

Against this background of progress, the Navy has confirmed that the first U.S. Navy vessel with direct ties to the LGBTQ+ community, the future USNS Harvey Milk, is also making progress and will soon be operating in the fleet. 

Named for Navy veteran and gender and gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, the ship is the second in an expected class of 20 fleet underway replenishment ships scheduled to replace the aging Henry J. Kaiser class ships in the fleet today.

Each ship in the class will honor an American hero who led the way in the nation's fight for equal rights and justice.

Milk became the first openly gay person elected to public office in California in 1977 with his election to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.

His first act as an elected official was to introduce a bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation that was approved and signed into law.

Less than a year later, Milk was assassinated with then-Mayor George Moscone by Dan White, a disgruntled former city supervisor and the only one to vote against Milk's anti-discrimination bill.

Milk enlisted in the Navy on June 16, 1951, and would spend nearly five years in the service during the Korean War.  After boot camp in San Diego, he went to airman apprenticeship training in Jacksonville, Fla. While there, he was selected for Officer Candidate School and was commissioned an ensign on July 24, 1952.

Milk then completed Diving Officer Training at the Naval School of Diving and Salvage in Washington D.C. before being assigned to the submarine rescue ship Chanticleer, then based in San Diego.

During this tour, the ship deployed to the Western Pacific and Korean theater of operations, netting Milk both the Korean and United Nations Service Medal.

In 1954, Milk transferred to the Norfolk-based submarine rescue ship Kittiwake before leaving service in February 1955.

Construction of the Milk began with the cutting of 100 tons of steel in December 2019. General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (GD NASSCO) authenticated the keel on Sept. 3, 2020.

The ship's construction reached the 75 percent completion milestone in May. Expectations are to launch the vessel later this calendar year.

From now on, Nowell's message said, the nation needs the services’ best and brightest in its ranks regardless of "race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation."

Monthly recognitions such as Pride Month celebrate what each of these diverse groups brings to the Navy and the nation.   

"Pride Month is celebrated every June in tribute to those involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which protested police violence on the LGBTQ+ community in New York City," Nowell said in concluding his message.

"For those who struggled in the past, those persevering today, and those who plan to serve in our Navy tomorrow -- we see you, we hear you, and we respect, value, and appreciate your service and sacrifice to our Nation."

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