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Harvey Milk to be honoured with Medal of Freedom

Ramsey DeHani July 31, 2009
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Gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk is to be posthumously awarded with a Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.

President Obama will bestow the honour to the murdered San Francisco supervisor along with 15 others, including lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Speaking to the Washington Times, Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew, said: “My uncle would be so proud of this high honour.”

Stuart will accept the award on behalf of his uncle at the White House ceremony on August 12th.

State senator Tom Ammiano, a former San Francisco supervisor, who is openly gay, said that he was thrilled with the announcement, saying it was “excellent” and “a good gesture for him [Obama] politically,” but added: “If Harvey was alive today, he would say, ‘Thanks for the honour – now repeal those bills’.”

The news has come after months of frustration from gay rights groups over Obama’s lack of action with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the federal marriage law, and many, while applauding the decision, have said that the president can do more.

Gloria Nieto, a lesbian activist and former chair of the Democratic National Committee’s gay and lesbian caucus, said that while the LGBT community applauds the decision to honour Milk, the movement often goes “two steps forward, one step back”.

Nieto added that it sent the message: “That our leaders are equal to Desmond Tutu and others who have made huge contributions to the world, as Harvey and Billie Jean did.”

Milk became the first openly gay politician elected to public office in a major US city in 1977, when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in the city of San Francisco.

A year later, after a struggle with Christian activist Anita Bryant over a national anti-gay ‘save the children’ crusade, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former city supervisor Dan White.

Milk’s life and political struggles were recently portrayed in an eponymous film, which took home two Oscars, for the script and for Sean Penn’s portrayal of the icon.

Other recipients of the award, which was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognise civilian efforts in world war II, are actor Sidney Poitier, physicist Stephen Hawking and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the high court.

Related topics: Americas

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