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
“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
“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