by Rex Wockner
National News Briefs
President Barack Obama will award the late gay activist Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Aug. 12. Openly lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King will receive one as well.
“Milk encouraged … LGBT citizens to live their lives openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change society and achieve social equality,” the White House said. “Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.”
The award, the nation’s highest civilian honor, may give California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pause. Last year, he vetoed a bill to make Milk’s birthday a “day of special significance” in California schools, saying Milk mostly had been relevant only in San Francisco.
State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), has reintroduced the bill this year.
“President Obama understands that Harvey Milk’s legacy reaches far beyond San Francisco, and that his story is an inspiration to everyone who believes in equality and fairness,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “Harvey Milk risked everything to change the course of history and to secure many of the civil rights and protections we enjoy today. In light of Harvey Milk receiving this incredible honor, we urge Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the Harvey Milk bill into law as a tribute to Harvey Milk’s courageous work to end discrimination against the (LGBT) community.”
Milk settled in San Francisco’s Castro district in 1972 and opened a camera store. He went on to pioneer a populist gay rights movement in the city and, in 1977, was elected to the Board of Supervisors, becoming the fourth openly gay American elected to public office.
He and Mayor George Moscone were shot to death inside City Hall on Nov. 27, 1978, by then recently resigned City Supervisor Dan White, who was angry that Moscone wouldn’t let him un-resign and that Milk had lobbied Moscone not to reappoint White. White’s lenient sentence for the killings (seven years and eight months with parole) led to the famed White Night Riots in San Francisco on May 21, 1979.
“Billie Jean King,” the White House said, “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.”