In a ceremony this afternoon, President Barack Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 accomplished Americans, including 2 gay icons.

Harvey Milk and Billy Jean King will be among the honored at a White House ceremony.

Milk is the first openly gay elected official from a major U.S. City. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 on a pledge to back gay and lesbian rights. Milk was killed by Dan White, a former supervisor the following year.

“Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality,” the White House said in their announcement Thursday.

“President Obama understands that Harvey Milk's legacy reaches far beyond San Francisco, and that his story is an inspiration to everyone who believes in equality and fairness,” Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California (EQCA), said in a statement.

“Harvey Milk risked everything to change the course of history and to secure many of the civil rights and protections we enjoy today,” he added.

Last year, the California Legislature passed a bill that would set aside May 22 to honor the gay rights leader. In vetoing the measure, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called Milk a community leader whose contributions “should continue to be recognized at the local level by those who were most impacted by his contributions.”

Conservatives were less kind: “It's crazy,” Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute, told News10, the Sacramento ABC affiliate. “It's a day that celebrates the history of a gay individual for being gay. That's his claim to fame.”

“In light of Harvey Milk receiving this incredible honor, we urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the Harvey Milk bill into law,” Kors added, referring to lawmakers' second attempt to pass the bill.

Also being honored is tennis great Billy Jean King, who publicly announced she was a lesbian in 1981, becoming the first openly lesbian major sports figure in America.

King has championed “gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life,” the White House said.

Also being honored is gay ally Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. ABC News reports that Kennedy will not attend the ceremony due to ailing health and that his oldest child, Kara Kennedy, will accept the award for him.

A complete list of honorees can be found here.