Demonstrators call for a cease-fire in Gaza, protesting the USNS Harvey Milk as it arrives in San Francisco before its maiden voyage to the Middle East, March 29, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Demonstrators call for a cease-fire in Gaza, protesting the USNS Harvey Milk as it arrives in San Francisco before its maiden voyage to the Middle East, March 29, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Protesters call for Gaza cease-fire at USNS Harvey Milk celebration in S.F.

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About 100 protesters withstood Friday’s rain to protest the U.S. Naval Ship Harvey Milk, docked at San Francisco’s Piers 30-32 before its maiden voyage. The protesters called for a cease-fire in Gaza, and some managed to gain unauthorized access to the Navy vessel.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi was on hand to celebrate the Navy ship, a refueling and supply transport vessel named for the Jewish gay rights activist. Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay politicians, was assassinated in 1978 while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The ship was stopping in San Francisco before embarking for the Middle East, where it will serve in a noncombat role, according to U.S. Navy Reserve Rear Admiral Richard M. Meyer, who spoke at a press conference held on board to mark the occasion. The craft is a replacement oiler and will carry fuel to resupply Navy combat ships.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents District 8 — Milk’s district — also attended.

During the press conference, Pelosi, the former House speaker from San Francisco, spoke about Milk’s life and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the informal name of a policy that kept LGBTQ military members closeted. Milk served as a Navy officer during the Korean War until he was forced to resign in 1955 after being questioned about his sexual orientation.

Pelosi hugged Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, who then spoke about his late uncle and shared about his own work for gay and queer rights around the world.

Waving Palestinian flags outside the piers along the Embarcadero, the demonstrators called for a “free Palestine” while police blocked them from boarding the ship. A small number of demonstrators, however, managed to get past a police-patrolled fence and stood on a gangway connecting the ship to the pier, while other protesters continued to demonstrate outside the pier entrance.

“Community members have occupied the USNS Harvey Milk,” said an Instagram post from the S.F.-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which helped organize the protest. “The Bay Area says NO warships in our town!”

Aaron Levy-Wolins
Aaron Levy-Wolins

Aaron Levy-Wolins is J.'s photographer. See more of his work on Instagram @aaron_levywolins and @jewishnews_sf.