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Sally Ride to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sally Ride, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian astronaut Sally Ride will posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Photo public domain)


Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel in space, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced on Monday. The award is the country’s highest civilian honor. After her death last July, it was disclosed in her obituaries that she had a partner of 27 years, Tammy O’Shaughnessy.

“We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women,” President Obama said in a statement. “Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy.”

According to the White House, Ride’s partner, mother, and sister were notified last week of the president’s decision to give the late astronaut the award. Additionally, the White House said more honorees will be named in the coming weeks and the awards will be presented at a White House ceremony later this year.

In related news, the White House is set to honor 10 openly LGBT Americans on Wednesday for their public service as part of its “Harvey Milk Champions of Change” event.

The event falls on Harvey Milk’s birthday and almost four years after when the gay rights pioneer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president. “Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants.”

A list of honorees follows. One of the awardees, Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, was profiled in the Washington Blade during his unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2011.

* Simone Bell, Georgia State Representative, Atlanta, Ga.

* Angie Buhl O’Donnell, South Dakota State Senator, Sioux Falls, S.D

* Karen Clark, Minnesota State Representative, South Minneapolis, Minn

* Michael Gin, Mayor of Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach, Calif.

* Kim Coco Iwamoto, Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner, Honolulu, Hawaii,

* John Laird, Calif. Secretary of Natural Resources, Santa Cruz, Calif.

* Ricardo Lara, California State Senator, Long Beach, Calif.

* Kim Painter, Johnson Country Recorder, Iowa City, Iowa

* Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati City Council Member, Cincinnati, Ohio;

* Pat Steadman, Colorado State Senator, Denver, Colo.

The event will be livestreamed here starting Wednesday at 3 p.m.


Obama honors Rustin, Ride

Walter Naegle, Bayard Rustin, Barack Obama, Medal of Freedom, gay news, Washington Blade

Bayard Rustin’s partner Walter Naegle accepting the medal from President Obama. (Photo by Patsy Lynch)

President Obama on Wednesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to a diverse roster of honorees.

Among them were two openly gay American icons: Bayard Rustin and Sally Ride. Both Rustin and Ride are deceased. Ride’s longtime partner, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, accepted on her behalf; Rustin’s partner Walter Naegle accepted on his behalf.

Rustin was an openly gay black man who organized the March on Washington in 1963; Ride was the first American woman in space.

Tam O'Shaughnessy, Barack Obama, Sally Ride, gay news, Washington Blade

Sally Ride’s longtime partner, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, with President Obama on Wednesday. (Photo by Patsy Lynch)


Learning from Rustin, Ride and Steinem

Gloria Steinem, Human Rights Campaign National Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

Celebrating and learning about the historic contributions of Bayard Rustin, Sally Ride and Gloria Steinem will help us understand and meet our present challenges. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite progress that’s been made in the struggle for LGBT rights, feminism and against racism, it still often feels as if the history of gays, people of color, women and other marginalized groups remains hidden or disrespected. Too frequently, we look at textbooks, the media or commemorative ceremonies, and wonder: where are the people like me? Why are our contributions ignored and how long will our sexuality be expurgated?

Thankfully, stellar examples of this hidden history were brought to light on Nov. 20 when President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, to feminist leader and Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem and posthumously to Bayard Rustin, an openly gay key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and Sally Ride, a lesbian and the first woman astronaut. In an historic first, at the White House ceremony, same-sex partners (Rustin’s partner Walter Naegle and Ride’s partner Tam O’Shaughnessy) accepted the distinguished medals.

Tam O'Shaughnessy, Barack Obama, Sally Ride, gay news, Washington Blade

Sally Ride’s longtime partner, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, with President Obam. (Photo by Patsy Lynch)

As I caught the news on this year’s Medal of Freedom winners (which included former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey), I felt as if two of our queer heroes and one of our allies were being vividly painted on the mural of history.

Rustin, who lived from 1910 to 1987, was a close adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Openly gay at a time when many had to hide who they loved,” Obama said of Rustin, “his unwavering belief that we are all equal members of a single human family took him from his first freedom ride to the LGBT rights movement.”

Thanks to Ride’s groundbreaking space voyage, LGBT kids know, that they, too, can reach for the stars. By blasting through the stratospheric glass ceiling, Obama said of Ride, she inspired girls to “pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Obama lauded Steinem’s advocacy for “lasting political and social change in America and abroad” and for “inspiring us all to take up the cause of reaching for a more just tomorrow.”

Why should the LGBT community be pleased that Steinem was among the Medal recipients? Because Steinem is an LGBT ally and the feminist and LGBT movements have much in common from employment discrimination to sexual oppression. True, in its early years, the 2nd wave feminist movement was often homophobic, and even now, feminism is too often geared toward white, middle and upper-middle class, straight women. Yet Steinem is a staunch LGBT rights supporter who sees sexism, racism and homophobia as intertwined.

Listening to Steinem, 79, speak on Nov. 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., her commitment to fighting injustice and creating a just world was a shot of Red Bull to those of us steeped in cynicism. Her Medal of Freedom belongs to everyone in the women’s movement, and “women’s issues are not separate from economic issues,” Steinem said.

Fewer Americans support marriage equality than people in other nations, Steinem noted.

The right to have an abortion is a human right, she said.  “For men and women the power of the state must stop at our skins,” she added.

“The same groups oppose all forms of sexual expression that do not end in contraception,” Steinem said in a telling comment on oppressive views of reproductive freedom and LGBT people.

Violence against women has reached its global peak, she said, adding that the level of this violence is a “foremost indicator of a repressive society.”

Knowing history is important, Steinem said, but “getting mad” at injustice in the present is more important than learning feminist history. Gratitude for history never got her to “vote for anything,” she added.

Of course, we mustn’t become so obsessed with history that we disengage from work that needs to be done now. But celebrating and learning about the historic contributions of Rustin, Ride and Steinem will help us understand and meet our present challenges.