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President Obama Honors Harvey Milk & Billie Jean King with Medal of Freedom

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rsz_billie_jean_king_aAs GLAAD previously reported, The White House announced late last month that 16 “agents of change” would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Among the recipients were two openly gay and lesbian people, slain San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, and tennis legend Billie Jean King. President Obama held the official ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday, August 12.

The New York Times, USA Today, and other national news media outlined the prodigious accomplishments of the recipients and highlighted the significance of Milk’s legacy.

The President used Milk’s own words in his remarks about the LGBT leader:

"His name was Harvey Milk, and he was here to recruit us – all of us – to join a movement and change a nation," the president said, evoking a call that Milk would use at political rallies, “In the brief time in which he spoke – and ran and led – his voice stirred the aspirations of millions of people.”

When speaking of King’s accomplishments, the president highlighted her tennis titles, but said that she was really there because of her activism “off-the-court.” President Obama went on to say that “what [King] did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone -- regardless of gender or sexual orientation -- including my two daughters -- a chance to compete both on the court and in life.”

CNN had live coverage of King receiving her medal as well as Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, receiving his uncle’s medal:

In an article titled “President Obama Grants Medals to Milk, King,” the Politico.com delved deeper into the event’s significance to the LGBT community.

Writers Alexander Burns and Carol E. Lee acknowledged frustration from some about the Obama Administration’s progress on LGBT issues, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the President’s stance on marriage protections for same-sex couples. The article includes a quote from King, who says she is willing to give the President some more time, however. King notes, “Civil unions, I think we have to get there first. I agree with him...I want to get that done, and then I want to the next step.”

King was also interviewed for a piece by CBS News titled “Billie Jean King More Than Great Tennis.” The article celebrates King’s historical weight as an icon for women’s rights. King addressed her famed “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs, saying, “It’s about history. It’s about changing the way the world thinks.”

On Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor featured a segment in which host Bill O’Reilly, Monica Crowley, and Alan Colmes opined whether or not the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients were ‘worthy’ of receiving the esteemed honor -- Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King were both put up to judgment.

Crowley expressed her approval of the choice of Harvey Milk because of his promotion of equal rights. She did say, however, that she believes that the Milk choice “has a political tinge to it.” Crowley also nodded her approval to the choice of Billie Jean King, though she only highlighted the tennis player’s athletic prowess and disregarded King’s sexual orientation when O’Reilly brought it up.

Cindi Creager, GLAAD's Director of National News, applauded the media's coverage of this event. She said:

"Its encouraging to see this much national news coverage devoted to the LGBT angle of the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.  It highlights the growing interest in stories that affect LGBT lives.  Media reports about this honor bestowed on Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King spotlight their immense historical contributions to bringing our community closer to full equality and allow viewers to see a full range of presidential award worthy heroes."

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