Thursday, July 30, 2009

Harvey Milk to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Harvey Milk, one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials. The award will be accepted at a White House ceremony August 12 by Stuart Milk, the nephew of the late San Francisco Supervisor and civil rights activist.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the country's highest honour for a civilian and was created to honour especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavours. Those are the first medals to be awarded by Obama.

Stuart Milk said, “The President's action today touches the core of our very human hearts and my uncle would be so proud of this high honour. His election was, for him, a beginning--a chance to make real change. That change is happening, but we still have so far to go. I hope this recognition inspires LGBT Americans everywhere to heed Harvey's call to run for office, to serve openly, to live proudly with authenticity and to demand the equality that we all deserve.”

American tennis great Billy Jean King, who is openly lesbian, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who has championed LGBT equality throughout his political career, also will receive the Congressional Medal of Honor at the August 12 ceremony. Kennedy was honoured by the Victory Fund in 2004 with its Oates-Shrum Leadership Award in recognition of his work on behalf of LGBT Americans.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, both also defenders of LGBT rights, are also on the list of 16 recipients announced by the White House.

Other names on the list are:
- Nancy Goodman Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots organisation;
- Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless patients a year in the city of Miami;
- Stephen Hawking, the internationally-recognised theoretical physicist;
- Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009 after serving as a U.S. Congressman (1971 – 1989), Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1989 – 1993), and Republican Nominee for Vice President (1996) and led the Buffalo Bills to American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965;
- The Reverend Joseph Lowery, a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s;
- Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief;
- Justice Sandra O’Connor, the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court;
- groundbreaking actor Sidney Poitier;
- Actress Chita Rivera;
- Janet Davison Rowley, M.D;
- Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a global leader in anti-poverty efforts.

In his announcement President Obama said, “These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. 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.”

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