President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded the Medal of Freedom to 16 people, including the late astronaut Sally Ride and the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, both of whom were gay.

Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away last July at the age of 61 after losing a prolonged 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She also held the distinction of being the youngest American in space and the first lesbian, though she never spoke about her private life in public.

Accepting the award on behalf of Ride was Tam O'Shaughnessy, who was introduced as Ride's life partner.

O'Shaughnessy told the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that they kept their relationship quiet over fears of losing funding for the Sally Ride Science Foundation, which they founded in 2001. The couple, however, did enter a domestic partnership in California.

“It's scary to be open because you don't realize the impact that it might have on so many aspects of your life,” Tam said. “You worry about grants, about whether you'll be able to continue writing children's textbooks; we were scared that if sponsors knew the founders of Sally Ride Science were two lesbians, if that would affect our organization.”

Rustin will also receive his medal posthumously.

A leading activist of the early civil rights movement, Rustin helped initiate a 1947 Freedom Ride challenging racial segregation on interstate buses and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was also gay.

Accepting the award on behalf of Rustin was Walter Naegel, his partner of ten years.

“Bayard was at heart a militant and revolutionary in the fight for civil rights,” Rachelle Horowitz, a former Rustin assistant, told CNN. “It was just one of these facts of life: Bayard is gay, he doesn't hide it. I said to somebody once that he never knew there was a closet to go into.”

Other honorees included women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, former President Bill Clinton, talk show host and actress Oprah Winfrey, former Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks, former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, the late Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), country music star Loretta Lynn, former Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN), cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, chemist and environmental scientist Mario Molina; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, baseball coach Dean Smith, civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “CT” Vivian and appellate judge Patricia Wald.