President Obama will award the prestigious medal of freedom on 16 notable Americans, including former President Bill Clinton, entertainer Loretta Lynn and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Significantly among the names are two LGBT pioneers, Sally Ride and Bayard Rustin, who will both receive the honor posthumously.
According to the White House press release, Rustin (right) will be honored for his work as “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”
Ride (left) is noted as “the first American female astronaut to travel to space. As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom, and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Dr. Ride also served in several administrations as an advisor on space exploration.
“This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” Obama said in a statement. The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.
The medal was created by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago to signify the highest honor that can be bestowed on U.S. civilians. In the five decades since, more than 500 people have been recognized for contributions to the culture and society of the country.
Past LGBT recipients include playwright Tennessee Williams and politician Harvey Milk.