Nancy Brinker: The Navy just named a ship after Harvey Milk. I was so proud to be there

FILE: Harvey Milk poses in front of his camera shop in San Francisco.

FILE: Harvey Milk poses in front of his camera shop in San Francisco.  (The Associated Press)

On August 16, I had the honor of attending the U.S. Navy Ship Naming Ceremony for the USNS Harvey Milk in San Francisco, California.

I was proud to be selected by the Milk family and the Harvey Milk Foundation to  deliver remarks at the Ship Naming Ceremony of the USNS Harvey Milk – the first Navy ship named after a Navy veteran and elected official who would not hide his authenticity as a member of the LGBT community. My connection with Harvey Milk began in 2009 as I was a co-recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and at that ceremony, I met and bonded with Harvey’s nephew Stuart. Our bond continues to this day. I am an active supporter of the Harvey Milk Foundation that Stuart leads.

Milk came from a Navy family and he was commissioned in the Navy in 1951. He served as a diving officer in San Diego during the Korean War on the submarine rescue ship Kittiwake until 1955. Milk was honorably discharged from the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade.

Following his service, Milk was elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors and was the first openly gay California politician to be elected to office. He was killed in office in 1978. When a disgruntled politician murdered Milk he was wearing his U.S. Navy diver’s belt buckle.

Ironically, at the time of Milk¹s military service it was illegal to serve as an openly gay service member and had he been discovered he most assuredly would have been dismissed with a “dishonorable discharge.”

Today, LGBT Americans are welcomed into our armed services with the same rights and privileges of any other American wanting to serve their country. And, this ship’s naming is an important symbol of just that.

This honor holds another importance to me personally. My son Eric is gay. Eric is a bright successful businessman, philanthropist and LBGT activist who had his own struggles with coming out as a gay man. His decision was a liberating experience for him and a blessing for me and our family. It does not matter what a person is -- it matters who they are as a human being.

The fact that Americans now can serve their country openly as a LGBT in our military shows how far we have come to accept our fellow citizens as equals. Patriotism knows no gender or sexual orientation. Some of our greatest leaders, thinkers, inventors, and citizens were and are part of the LBGT community.

All of the men and women -- regardless of their sexual orientation, race, color, religion or background -- who will serve aboard the USNS Harvey Milk will all have the same mission and that is to keep America safe, sound and secure. And, in doing so they will represent and uphold our most precious Constitutional principle of Equal Protection.

In the Navy tradition, I wish all that will sail aboard the USNS Harvey Milk, “Fair Winds and Following Seas”.

Nancy G. Brinker is founder of Susan G. Komen and Race for the Cure. She served as ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001-2003 and was chief of protocol at the State Department from 2007-2009.