Presidential Medal of Freedom Honors Pioneers
“These individuals are each champions of equality and icons of our movement’s history,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese
WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today applauded the announcement by President Barack Obama naming Harvey Milk, Billie Jean King, Sen. Edward Kennedy as recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom. The HRC Religion and Faith Program also recognized Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Joseph Lowery for their work on equality issues. 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.
“These individuals are each champions of equality and icons of our movement’s history,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Harvey Milk took the first leap into the foray of politics and represented what we didn’t imagine possible: an openly gay elected official. Billie Jean King not only shattered tennis records, she opened up new possibilities for women and became a role model for both LGBT players and fans. And Sen. Ted Kennedy, a lion of the Senate, has taken leadership in fighting discrimination and hate violence, standing up for our families, and keeping our Constitution safe from bigotry. Our community continues to be grateful for his decades of service.”
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Joseph Lowery exemplify what is best about religion,” said Harry Knox, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion & Faith Program and member of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Not only are they heroes in the worldwide movement for racial equality and reconciliation but they continue to be prophetic leaders for LGBT equality. Their life work and ministry exemplifies the fundamental truth that none of us can be free until all of us are free.”
“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,” said President Barack Obama. “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. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.”
President Obama will present the awards at a ceremony on Wednesday, August 12. Additional biographical information provided by the White House:
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 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. Milk, alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor. Milk 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:
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 in all areas of public life. King beat Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, then the most viewed tennis match in history. King became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981. Following her professional tennis career, King became the first woman commissioner in professional sports when she co-founded and led the World Team Tennis (WTT) League. The U.S. Tennis Association named the National Tennis Center, where the US Open is played, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006.
Sen. Edward Kennedy:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy has served in the United States Senate for forty-six years, and has been one of the greatest lawmakers – and leaders – of our time. From reforming our public schools to strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans, Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable health care, and has succeeded in doing so for countless children, seniors, and Americans with disabilities. He has called health care reform the “cause of his life,” and has championed nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress over the course of the last five decades. Known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Senator Kennedy is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to legislate.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Widely regarded as “South Africa's moral conscience,” he served as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) from 1978 – 1985, where he led a formidable crusade in support of justice and racial reconciliation in South Africa. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work through SACC in 1984. Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, and the Chair of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. He retired as Archbishop in 1996 and is currently Chair of the Elders.
Rev. Joseph Lowery:
Reverend Lowery has been a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s. Rev. Lowery helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks was denied a seat, and later co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Lowery led the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Rev. Lowery is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and has continued to highlight important civil rights issues in the U.S. and worldwide, including apartheid in South Africa, since the 1960s.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.