There's no higher award in America for civilians than the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in the latest 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, civil rights leaders – on issues of color, gender, and sexuality – really get their props.
The big name for regular Gay Place readers has to be Harvey Milk. To quote the press release:
Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.
But there's more. Tennis icon Billie Jean King is on the list too, and not just for her wicked speed at the net.
King became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981.
After a flavorless few years of some questionable winners (William Safire? Norman Podhoretz? Really?) under Dubya, the Obama administration explained that its criteria was to find "agents of change" (not, as the previous president seemed to prefer, agents of regime change). So who else is on the list?
From the human and civil rights side, King and Milk are the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and micro-loans pioneer Muhammad Yunus. From the medical sphere there's Susan G. Komen for the Cure founder Nancy Goodman Brinker, cancer researcher Janet Davison Rowley, and Pedro José Greer, Jr. from the University School of Medicine. Academia provides physicist Stephen Hawking and historian Joseph Medicine Crow, who are joined by Congressman Jack Kemp, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Meanwhile, actor Sidney Poitier and performer Chita Rivera represent the arts community.
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