KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones: In a ceremony beginning at 7:30 pm tonight, the US Navy will christen and launch the USNS César Chávez, a battleship named after deceased farm labor leader and World War II veteran César Chávez, at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego.
The Navy christened the USNS Medgar Evers, named after slain African American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, in December and delivered it to the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command on April 24th.
The next ship in the same class may be named after San Francisco's slain gay rights martyr Harvey Milk, and San Francisco's gay District #8 Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed a City and County Board of Supervisors resolution supporting the idea. Some San Francisco activists, however, are adamantly opposed. KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke to one of them, affordable housing, peace, justice, and gay rights activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Tommi Avicolli Mecca, why, briefly, do you oppose naming a battleship after Harvey Milk?
Tommi Avicolli Mecca: Well, I think the most simple reason is because Harvey Milk was a man of peace. He was against the War in Vietnam. He was against war, so I think it's inappropriate to name a ship that's possibly gonna be used in war for a man who was a man of peace and I'd feel that way about anybody who stood up against war.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Even though he served in the Korean War?
Tommi Avicolli Mecca:
True. But I think the Harvey Milk that served in the Korean War and the Harvey Milk who came out to San Francisco and got involved with the gay movement and opened the camera store and all that . . . I think they're two different people, and I think that was true of a lot of us. Y'know I came out around the same time, I grew up in the same era, and I remember. I went from being an altar boy in Catholic School to growing my hair and having sex with guys and the whole bit, just like Harvey did. So I think that that kind of transformation happened and I think the Tommi Avicolli Mecca outside what, in 1978, was Harvey Milk's camera shop.
people we became were these people who were against war. We didn't believe in the Vietnam War or any of America's wars, and so I think that's the person that we have to respect. And we don't know what was goin' on in his mind at the time he went to the Korean War. Y'know, he was a closeted gay man. Who knows what was goin' on in his mind at the time? But, that wasn't the person who left us in 1978, when he was assassinated. I wanta honor and respect the man that he was in 1978.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Medgar Evers, César Chávez, and Harvey Milk all served in the Navy. Medgar Evers and César Chávez in World War II, Harvey in the Korean War, though he protested the Vietnam War. The widows of Medgar Evers and César Chávez both supported the USNS Medgar Evers and the USNS César Chávez, and Stuart Milk, the nephew of Harvey Milk and spokesman for the Milk family, supports the idea of the USNS Harvey Milk. Do you feel confident that you can oppose this, without seeming to disrespect veterans or the families?
Tommi Avicoli Mecca:
I absolutely think that we can oppose a battleship named after Harvey Milk and still respect his family and veterans. I don't see where the two are mutually exclusive. I'm not attacking veterans and I'm not attacking Milk's family or César Chávez's family. They make the decisions they make and I'm coming from where I'm coming from. So I'm not coming from a place of disrespect for any of them. And also, myself, as someone who has
always opposed war, I avoided the draft, and during the Vietnam War, I was active in the antiwar movement, I'm still active in anti-war efforts, and I still oppose America's wars. And coming from that perspective, I can't possibly support naming a ship for Harvey Milk. And I don't feel any disrespect for his family, and I, y'know, I understand his family supports this. But that's not my position. As I respect them, I would hope that they respect my position as well.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: That was San Franciscan and longtime gay activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca on the plan to name a U.S. battleship after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk.