Noted gay and lesbian leaders Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King were among the 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom. America’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk, who was murdered in 1978, is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.
Billie Jean King was an acclaimed professional tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s, and has helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but also in all areas of public life. She became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981.
President Obama praised all 16 recipients for breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens, saying, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.”
The awards were presented at a White House ceremony on Wednesday, August 12. – by Nancy Ford