Family Equality Council salutes Harvey Milk, Sen. Edward Kennedy (MA) and Billy Jean King, all to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom


Office of the Press Secretary



July 30, 2009

President Obama Names Medal of Freedom

16 Agents of Change to Receive Top Civilian

WASHINGTON – President Obama today named 16 recipients of the
2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom.   America’s highest
civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who
make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or
national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or
other significant public or private endeavors.

This year’s awardees were chosen for their work as agents of
change.  Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from
sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public
policy, these men and women have changed the world for the
better.  They have blazed trails and broken down barriers.  They
have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened
minds to new possibilities.

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

“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

President Obama will present the awards at a ceremony on Wednesday,
August 12.

The following individuals will receive the 2009 Presidential Medal
of Freedom:

Nancy Goodman Brinker

Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the
Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots
organization.  Brinker established the organization in memory of
her sister, who passed away from breast cancer in 1980.  Through
innovative events like Race for the Cure, the organization has
given and invested over $1.3 billion for research, health services
and education services since its founding in 1982 and developed a
worldwide grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and
activists who are working together to save lives, empower people,
ensure quality care for all and energize science to find cures.
 Brinker has received several awards for her work, and has also
served in government as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary (2001 – 2003),
Chief of Protocol of the U.S. (2007 – 2009), and Chair of the
President’s Cancer Panel (1990).  In May, Nancy Goodman Brinker
was named the first-ever World Health Organization’s Goodwill
Ambassador for Cancer Control.

Pedro José Greer, Jr.

Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is a physician and the Assistant Dean of
Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of
Medicine, where he also serves as Chair of the Department of
Humanities, Health and Society.  Dr. Greer is 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. He is
also the founder and medical director of the St. John Bosco Clinic
which provides basic primary medical care to disadvantaged children
and adults in the Little Havana community. He has been recognized
by Presidents Clinton, Bush, Sr., and Carter for his work with
Miami’s poor . He is also the recipient of three Papal Medals as
well as the prestigious MacArthur “genius grant”. He currently has
a joint private practice with his father, Pedro Greer, Sr.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical
physicist, having overcome a severe physical disability due to
motor neuron disease.  He is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics
at Cambridge University, a post previously held by Isaac Newton in
1669.  In addition to his pioneering academic research in
mathematics and physics, Hawking has penned three popular science
books, including the bestselling A Brief History of Time. 
Hawking, a British citizen, believes that non-academics should be
able to access his work just as physicists are, and has also
published a children’s science book with his daughter.  His
persistence and dedication has unlocked new pathways of discovery
and inspired everyday citizens.

Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009, served as a  U.S.
Congressman (1971 – 1989), Secretary of Housing and Urban
Development (1989 – 1993), and Republican Nominee for Vice
President (1996).  Prior to entering public service, Kemp was a
professional football player (1957 – 1969) and led the Buffalo
Bills to American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965. 
In Congress and as a Cabinet Secretary, Kemp was a self-described
“bleeding heart conservative” who worked to encourage
development in underserved urban communities.  In the years
leading up to his death, Kemp continued seeking new solutions,
raising public attention about the challenge of poverty, and
working across party lines to improve the lives of Americans and
others around the world.

Sen. Edward Kennedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has served in the United States Senate
for forty-six years, and has been one of the greatest lawmakers –
and leaders – of our time.  From reforming our public schools to
strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans,
Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal
opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans.   He has
worked tirelessly to ensure that every American has access to
quality and affordable health care, and has succeeded in doing so
for countless children, seniors, and Americans with disabilities. 
He  has called health care reform the “cause of his life,” and
has championed nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress
over the course of the last five decades.   Known as the “Lion
of the Senate,” Senator Kennedy is widely respected on both sides
of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King 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.

Rev. Joseph Lowery

Reverend Lowery has been a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement
since the early 1950s.  Rev. Lowery helped organize the Montgomery
bus boycott after Rosa Parks was denied a seat, and later
co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading
civil rights organization, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Rev.
Lowery led the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.  Rev.
Lowery is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and has
continued to highlight important civil rights issues in the U.S.
and worldwide, including apartheid in South Africa, since the

Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird

Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief,
is the author of seminal works in Native American history and
culture.  He is the last person alive to have received direct oral
testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn: 
his grandfather was a scout for General George Armstrong Custer. 
A veteran of World War II, Medicine Crow accomplished during the
war all of the four tasks required to become a “war chief,”
including stealing fifty Nazi SS horses from a German camp. 
Medicine Crow was the first member of his tribe to attend college,
receiving his master’s degree in anthropology in 1939, and
continues to lecture at universities and notable institutions like
the United Nations.  His contributions to the preservation of the
culture and history of the First Americans are matched only by his
importance as a role model to young Native Americans across the

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a
major city in the United States when he was elected to the San
Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives
openly and believed coming out was the only way they could change
society and achieve social equality. Milk, alongside San Francisco
Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a
former city supervisor.  Milk is revered nationally and globally
as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional
leadership and dedication to equal rights.

Sandra Day O’Connor

Justice O’Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the United
States Supreme Court.  Nominated by President Reagan in 1981, she
served until her retirement in 2006.  Prior to joining the Supreme
Court, O’Connor served as a state trial and appellate judge in
Arizona.  She was also as a member of the Arizona state senate,
where she became the first woman in the United States ever to lead
a state senate as Senate Majority Leader.  At a time when women
rarely entered the legal profession, O’Connor graduated Stanford
Law School third in her class, where she served on the Stanford Law
Review and was elected to the Order of the Coif.   Since retiring
from the Supreme Court in 2006, O’Connor has served as Chancellor
of the College of William and Mary, on the Board of Trustees of the
National Constitution Center, and participated in the Iraq Study
Group in 2006, as well as giving numerous lectures on public
service. She has received numerous awards for her outstanding
achievements and public service.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier is a groundbreaking actor, becoming the top black
movie star in the 1950s and 1960s.  Poitier is the first African
American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award,
receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film
Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United
States.  Poitier insisted that the film crew on The Lost Man be at
least 50 percent African American, and starred in the first
mainstream movies portraying “acceptable” interracial marriages
and interracial kissing.  Poitier began his acting career without
any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro

Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera is an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and
dancer, who has won Two Tony Awards and received seven more
nominations while breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of
women to follow in her footsteps.  In 2002, she became the first
Hispanic recipient of the coveted Kennedy Center Honor.  Propelled
to stardom by her electric performance as Anita in the original
Broadway premiere of West Side Story, Rivera went on to star in
additional landmark musicals such as Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, and
Jerry’s Girls.  She recently starred in The Dancer’s Life, an
autobiographical musical  about her celebrated life in the

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland (1990 –
1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights (1997 – 2002), a post that required her to end her
presidency four months early.  Robinson served as a prominent
member of the Irish Senate prior to her election as President. 
She continues to bring attention to international issues as
Honorary President of Oxfam International, and Chairs the Board of
Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI Alliance). 
Since 2002 she has been President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical
Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an
organization she founded to make human rights the compass which
charts a course for globalization that is fair, just and benefits

Janet Davison Rowley

Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., is the Blum Riese Distinguished Service
Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and
Human Genetics at The University of Chicago. She is an American
human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal
translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. Rowley is
internationally renowned for her studies of chromosome
abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma, which have led to
dramatically improved survival rates for previously incurable
cancers and the development of targeted therapies. In 1999
President Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Science–the
nation’s highest scientific honor.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading
anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.  Widely regarded as
“South Africa’s moral conscience,” he served as the General
Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) from 1978
– 1985, where he led a formidable crusade in support of justice
and racial reconciliation in South Africa.  He received a Nobel
Peace Prize for his work through SACC in 1984.  Tutu was elected
Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, and the Chair of the South Africa
Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. He retired as
Archbishop in 1996 and is currently Chair of the Elders.

Muhammad Yunus

Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and
has pioneered the use of “micro-loans” to provide credit to
poor individuals without collateral.  Dr. Yunus, an economist by
training, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in his native Bangladesh
to provide small, low-interest loans to the poor to help better
their livelihood and communities.  Despite its low interest rates
and lending to poor individuals, Grameen Bank is sustainable and
98% percent of its loans are repaid – higher than other banking
systems. It has spread its successful model throughout the world. 
Dr. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.