White House officials have selected three out gay Californians as Harvey Milk Champions of Change. All will be honored Wednesday, May 22, which would have been Milk’s 83rd birthday.
Additionally, President Obama has chosen lesbian astronaut Sally Ride to receive a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom award.
Redondo Beach Mayor Michael A. Gin, 50, is serving his second term leading the Southern California city, having been reelected in March 2009. As mayor, Gin “has seen the city through several years of economic challenges with a consistently balanced budget and a thriving local economy,” White House officials said in a statement Monday (May 20). They also stated, “He has worked to bring the community together from all sectors on various issues, resulting in uniquely collaborative solutions.”
In a brief interview, Gin said he was “deeply honored and surprised and thrilled” by the recognition.
“Supervisor Milk was an amazing individual and leader, not only for San Francisco, but for our nation and for our entire LGBT community, at a time when it was very difficult to be out as a gay man, much less to be an elected public official and out,” Gin said. “To be honored with an award that bears his name is extremely humbling to me, and perhaps will be one of the greatest honors I think that I ever receive.”
California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird was one of the first openly gay mayors in the country when he was elected to the post in Santa Cruz in 1983. In 2002, he became one of the first out gay men elected to the Legislature, where he eventually served as budget chair.
In 2012, Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) became the first openly gay person of color elected to California’s state Senate. Lara, who’s also served in the Assembly, is the first LGBT legislator to chair the California Latino Legislative Caucus.
Seven other openly LGBT elected or appointed officials will also receive the Champion of Change recognition Wednesday: Georgia State Representative Simone Bell; South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl O’Donnell; Minnesota State Representative Karen Clark; Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner Kim Coco Iwamoto; Johnson County, Iowa Recorder Kim Painter; Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach; and Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman.
Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to Obama, said in a White House statement Monday, “When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office. Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants.”
In 1977, Milk was the first out gay man to be elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Former Supervisor Dan White fatally shot both Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone in their City Hall offices in November 1978.
Through the Champions of Change program, the White House features individuals, businesses and organizations “who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities,” administration officials stated.
Obama honors Ride
Also Monday, Obama announced he’ll award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space. The medal is the country’s highest civilian honor.
Although it wasn’t publicly known before her death from cancer in July 2012, Ride was a lesbian.“We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women,” Obama said in a statement that mentioned Ride’s partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, though not by name. The announcement also didn’t refer to Ride’s orientation. “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.”
To watch the Champions of Change event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at noon PST, 3 p.m. EST Wednesday.
The remainder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees will be announced over the coming weeks, and the awards will be presented at a White House ceremony later this year.