i mean harvey milk was a conservative asshole who worked for the goldwater campaign and his entry into politics was to be as respectable as possible to appeal to bourgeois bullshit an was himself a proud veteran and former wall street employee, so naming an imperial war vessel after him would be fine by him and not at all selling out
So, some things:
- I don’t think it’s hard to understand why an American Jew who came of age during WWII would want to join the military, nor why a gay man in the early 1950s would be attracted to the navy specifically. There’s not really any basis to say that he was a “proud veteran,” he doesn’t seem to have discussed it at all in his time as a public figure except for the occasional claim that he was dishonorably discharged for being gay (which isn’t true). It’s not like he used his military service for political cachet or was buried with military honors.
- He did campaign for Goldwater in New York in 1964; Randy Shilts (his biographer) describes his politics at this point as being “a hard-boiled conservative in the laissez-faire capitalist mold.”
- The impression Shilts gives of Milk’s Wall Street job is that he had been working as a teacher but left that job because it made it virtually impossible for him to be out in any capacity; he hated working in finance and viewed it mostly as a way to support his theater habit, which introduced him to the 60s radical counterculture scene that basically caused his politics to take a hard turn to the left.
- His political career almost tanked because he refused to cater to the gay Democratic establishment in SF. The Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which represented gay Democrats in SF at the time, demanded that he moderate his politics and essentially would not support an openly gay candidate — they only endorsed straight “allies.” Without their backing, he lost his first three elections. Much of Harvey Milk’s support came from youth, drag queens, POC, and working-class queers who felt that their interests weren’t represented at all by the assimilationist politics of the Toklas Club.
The reason this sort of thing gets to me is because it seems like it’s become the cool thing to do, in queer communities, to demand that historical figures live up to our modern standards of good politics, and to deny any space for people’s politics to change. Yes, Harvey Milk did some shitty things before becoming a public figure (he campaigned for Goldwater!!); that doesn’t make his later political accomplishments any less significant. In 2014, an openly queer person running for office is read as assimilationist. But the way that Harvey Milk conducted his campaigns in San Francisco in the 1970s was radical for its time, and yes, it made space for other queer folks in an important way.
On a personal level, I’ll also add that for me as a baby queer in high school (well before anyone had pitched the screenplay for an Oscar-winning movie about Harvey Milk), encountering HM’s really simple message about the power of coming out was what let me start to think about being openly queer, and seeing how he wore his gayness and his Jewishness together was huge.
And, for all but a handful of people who are alive today, it’s pretty rich to claim to know how he would have felt about having a warship named after him.
and like, i know this is the deadest horse by now, but his work for goldwater, his time in the navy, and whatever else he did that made him a straight acting conservative wasn’t enough to save him from being shot in the fucking head. even if his entire life was about wall street and republicans and i don’t know wearing sweatervests or whatever it is that makes a person straight acting, and he was murdered for being gay, you’d still have to care about that as an act of homophobic violence ¯\_(ツ)_/¯