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President presents Medal of Freedom to 16 Americans. Transcript

President Barack Obama honored 16 Americans today (Nov. 20) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award the U.S. gives a civilian.

The ceremony at the White House opened a day of tributes to former President John F. Kennedy, who established the modern version of the medal.

Recipients include:

• Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Ride received the award posthumously. Her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, accepted the award.

• Bayard Rustin, civil and gay rights activist and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin received the award posthumously.

• Bill Clinton, the 42nd president and former Arkansas governor, who was also recognized for his post-presidency humanitarian work.

• Oprah Winfrey, broadcaster, actress, activist and philanthropist, who was an early supporter of Obama’s first presidential campaign.

• Daniel Inouye, former senator from Hawaii, World War II veteran and the first Japanese American in Congress. Inouye received the award posthumously.

• Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of Watergate.

• Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana who worked to reduce the global nuclear threat.

• Gloria Steinem, writer and prominent women’s rights activist.

• Ernie Banks, baseball player who hit more than 500 home runs and played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

• Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

• Loretta Lynn, country music singer.

• Maria Molina, chemist and environmental scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

• Arturo Sandoval, Grammy-winning jazz musician who was born in Cuba and defected to the U.S.

• Dean Smith, head coach of University of North Carolina’s basketball team for 36 years.

• Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and became the court’s chief judge.

• C.T. Vivian, civil rights leader and minister.

The following is a transcript of the president’s remarks from the East Room at the White House. He concluded at noon:

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning!  (Applause.)  Good morning, everybody!  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.

Well, on behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.  This is one of my favorite events every year, especially special this year, as I look at this extraordinary group of individuals and our opportunity to honor them with our nation’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

And this year, it’s just a little more special because this marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy establishing this award.  We’re honored, by the way, today to have with us one of my favorite people — Ethel Kennedy — and a pretty good basketball player, President Kennedy’s grandson, Jack.  (Applause.)  

This medal has been bestowed on more than 500 deserving people.  Tonight, I’m looking forward to joining some of these honorees, as well as members of the Kennedy family, as we pay tribute to these 50 years of excellence.  And this morning, we’re honored to add 16 new names to this distinguished list. 

Today, we salute fierce competitors who became true champions.  In the sweltering heat of a Chicago summer, Ernie Banks walked into the Cubs locker room and didn’t like what he saw.  “Everybody was sitting around, heads down, depressed,” he recalled.  So Ernie piped up and said, “Boy, what a great day!  Let’s play two!”  (Laughter.)  That’s “Mr. Cub” — a man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time.  And in the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.  (Laughter.)   

And that’s serious belief.  (Laughter.)  That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect.  (Laughter.)  But he is just a wonderful man and a great icon of my hometown. 

Speaking of sports, Dean Smith is one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, but his successes go far beyond Xs and Os.  Even as he won 78 percent of his games, he graduated 96 percent of his players.  The first coach to use multiple defenses in a game, he was the pioneer who popularized the idea of “pointing to the passer” — after a basket, players should point to the teammate who passed them the ball.  And with his first national title on the line, he did have the good sense to give the ball to a 19-year-old kid named Michael Jordan.  (Laughter.)  Although they used to joke that the only person who ever held Michael under 20 was Dean Smith.  (Laughter.)   

While Coach Smith couldn’t join us today due to an illness that he’s facing with extraordinary courage, we also honor his courage in helping to change our country — he recruited the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helped to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill.  That’s the kind of character that he represented on and off the court. 

We salute innovators who pushed the limits of science, changing how we see the world — and ourselves.  And growing up, Sally Ride read about the space program in the newspaper almost every day, and she thought this was “the coolest thing around.”  When she was a PhD candidate at Stanford she saw an ad for astronauts in the student newspaper and she seized the opportunity.  As the first American woman in space, Sally didn’t just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, she blasted through it.  And when she came back to Earth, she devoted her life to helping girls excel in fields like math, science and engineering.  “Young girls need to see role models,” she said, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”  Today, our daughters — including Malia and Sasha — can set their sights a little bit higher because Sally Ride showed them the way.

Now, all of us have moments when we look back and wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?”  I have that — (laughter) — quite a bit.  Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has made that simple question his life’s work.  In a storied career in Israel and America, he basically invented the study of human decision-making.  He’s helped us to understand everything from behavioral economics to “Does living in California make people happy?”  It’s an interesting question.  He’s also been called an expert on irrational behavior — so I’m sure that he could shed some light on Washington.  (Laughter.) 

But what truly sets Daniel apart is his curiosity.  Guided by his belief that people are “endlessly complicated and interesting,” at 79 he’s still discovering new insights into how we think and learn, not just so we understand each other, but so we can work and live together more effectively. 

Dr. Mario Molina’s love of science started as a young boy in Mexico City, in a homemade laboratory in a bathroom at home.  And that passion for discovery led Mario to become one of the most respected chemists of his era.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — or the Nobel Prize, rather, not only for his path-breaking research, but also for his insistence that when we ignore dangerous carbon emissions we risk destroying the ozone layer and endangering our planet.  And thanks to Mario’s work, the world came together to address a common threat, and today, inspired by his example, we’re working to leave our planet safer and cleaner for future generations.

     We also have to salute musicians, who bring such joy to our lives.  Loretta Lynn was 19 the first time she won the big — she won big at the local fair.  Her canned vegetables brought home 17 blue ribbons — (laughter) — and made her “Canner of the Year.” (Laughter.)  Now, that’s impressive.  (Laughter.) 

For a girl from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, that was fame.  Fortunately for all of us, she decided to try her hand at things other than canning.  Her first guitar cost $17, and with it this coal miner’s daughter gave voice to a generation, singing what no one wanted to talk about and saying what no one wanted to think about.  And now, over 50 years after she cut her first record — and canned her first vegetables — (laughter) — Loretta Lynn still reigns as the rule-breaking, record-setting queen of country music. 

     As a young man in Cuba, Arturo Sandoval loved jazz so much it landed him in jail.  It was the Cold War, and the only radio station where he could hear jazz was the Voice of America, which was dangerous to listen to.  But Arturo listened anyway.  Later, he defected to the United States knowing he might never see his parents or beloved homeland again.  “Without freedom,” he said, “there is no life.”  And today, Arturo is an American citizen and one of the most celebrated trumpet players in the world.  “There isn’t any place on Earth where the people don’t know about jazz,” he says, and that’s true in part because musicians like him have sacrificed so much to play it.

     We salute pioneers who pushed our nation towards greater justice and equality.  A Baptist minister, C.T. Vivian was one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s closest advisors.  “Martin taught us,” he says, “that it’s in the action that we find out who we really are.”  And time and again, Reverend Vivian was among the first to be in the action:  In 1947, joining a sit-in to integrate an Illinois restaurant; one of the first Freedom Riders; in Selma, on the courthouse steps to register blacks to vote, for which he was beaten, bloodied and jailed.  Rosa Parks said of him, “Even after things had supposedly been taken care of and we had our rights, he was still out there, inspiring the next generation, including me,” helping kids go to college with a program that would become Upward Bound.  And at 89 years old, Reverend Vivian is still out there, still in the action, pushing us closer to our founding ideals.

     Now, early in the morning the day of the March on Washington, the National Mall was far from full and some in the press were beginning to wonder if the event would be a failure.  But the march’s chief organizer, Bayard Rustin, didn’t panic.  As the story goes, he looked down at a piece of paper, looked back up, and reassured reporters that everything was right on schedule.  The only thing those reporters didn’t know was that the paper he was holding was blank.  (Laughter.)  He didn’t know how it was going to work out, but Bayard had an unshakable optimism, nerves of steel, and, most importantly, a faith that if the cause is just and people are organized, nothing can stand in our way. 

So, for decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King’s side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay.  No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin’s memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love.  (Applause.)

     Speaking of game-changers, disrupters, there was a young girl names Gloria Steinem who arrived in New York to make her mark as a journalist, and magazines only wanted to write articles like “How to Cook without Really Cooking for Men.”  (Laughter.)  Gloria noticed things like that.  (Laughter.)  She’s been called a “champion noticer.”  She’s alert to all the ways, large and small, that women had been and, in some cases, continue to be treated unfairly just because they’re women. 

As a writer, a speaker, an activist, she awakened a vast and often skeptical public to problems like domestic violence, the lack of affordable child care, unfair hiring practices.  And because of her work, across America and around the world, more women are afforded the respect and opportunities that they deserve.  But she also changed how women thought about themselves.  And Gloria continues to pour her heart into teaching and mentoring.  Her one piece of advice to young girls is — I love this — “Do not listen to my advice.  Listen to the voice inside you and follow that.” 

When Patricia Wald’s law firm asked if she’d come back after having her first child, she said she’d like some time off to focus on her family — devoted almost 10 years to raising five children.  But Patricia never lost the itch to practice law.  So while her husband watched the kids at home, she’d hit the library on weekends.  At the age 40, she went back to the courtroom to show the “young kids” a thing or two.  As the first female judge on the D.C. Circuit, Patricia was a top candidate for Attorney General.  After leaving the bench, her idea of retirement was to go to The Hague to preside over the trials of war criminals.  Patricia says she hopes enough women will become judges that “it’s not worth celebrating” anymore.  But today, we celebrate her.  And along with Gloria, she shows there are all kinds of paths listening to your own voice.

We salute communicators who shined a light on stories no one else was telling.  A veteran of World War II and more than a dozen Pacific battles, Ben Bradlee brought the same intensity and dedication to journalism.  Since joining The Washington Post 65 years ago, he transformed that newspaper into one of the finest in the world.  With Ben in charge, the Post published the Pentagon Papers, revealing the true history of America’s involvement in Vietnam; exposed Watergate; unleashed a new era of investigative journalism, holding America’s leaders accountable and reminding us that our freedom as a nation rests on our freedom of the press.  When Ben retired, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put the admiration of many into a poem:  “O rare Ben Bradlee/His reign has ceased/But his nation stands/Its strength increased.”

And I also indicated to Ben he can pull off those shirts and I can’t.  (Laughter.)  He always looks so cool in them.  (Laughter.) 

Early in Oprah Winfrey’s career, her bosses told her she should change her name to Susie.  (Laughter.)  I have to pause here to say I got the same advice.  (Laughter and applause.)  They didn’t say I should be named “Susie,” but they suggested I should change my name.  (Laughter.)  People can relate to Susie, that’s what they said.  It turned out, surprisingly, that people could relate to Oprah just fine. 

In more than 4,500 episodes of her show, her message was always, “You can.”  “You can do and you can be and you can grow and it can be better.”  And she was living proof, rising from a childhood of poverty and abuse to the pinnacle of the entertainment universe.  But even with 40 Emmys, the distinction of being the first black female billionaire, Oprah’s greatest strength has always been her ability to help us discover the best in ourselves.  Michelle and I count ourselves among her many devoted fans and friends.  As one of those fans wrote, “I didn’t know I had a light in me until Oprah told me it was there.”  What a great gift. 

And, finally, we salute public servants who’ve strengthened our nation.  Daniel Inouye was a humble man and didn’t wear his Medal of Honor very often.  Instead, he liked to wear a pin representing the Good Conduct Medal he earned as a teenage private.  “To behave yourself takes special effort,” he said,  “and I did not want to dishonor my family.”  Danny always honored his family and his country, even when his country didn’t always honor him. 

After being classified as an “enemy alien,” Danny joined a Japanese American unit that became one of the most decorated in World War II.  And as the second-longest serving senator in American history, he showed a generation of young people — including one kid with a funny name growing up in Hawaii who noticed that there was somebody during some of those hearings in Washington that didn’t look like everybody else, which meant maybe I had a chance to do something important, too.  He taught all of us that no matter what you look like or where you come from, this country has a place for everybody who’s willing to serve and work hard.

A proud Hoosier, Dick Lugar has served America for more than half a century, from a young Navy lieutenant to a respected leader in the United States Senate.  I’ll always be thankful to Dick for taking me — a new, junior senator — under his wing, including travels together to review some of his visionary work, the destruction of Cold War arsenals in the former Soviet Union  — something that doesn’t get a lot of public notice, but was absolutely critical to making us safer in the wake of the Cold War.

Now, I should say, traveling with Dick you get close to unexploded landmines, mortar shells, test tubes filled with anthrax and the plague.  (Laughter.)  His legacy, though, is the thousands of missiles and bombers and submarines and warheads that no longer threaten us because of his extraordinary work.  And our nation and our world are safer because of this statesman. And in a time of unrelenting partisanship, Dick Lugar’s decency, his commitment to bipartisan problem-solving, stand as a model of what public service ought to be.  

Now, last, but never least, we honor a leader who we still remember with such extraordinary fondness.  He still remembers as a child waving goodbye to his mom — tears in her eyes — as she went off to nursing school so she could provide for her family.  And I think lifting up families like his own became the story of Bill Clinton’s life.  He remembered what his mom had to do on behalf of him and he wanted to make sure that he made life better and easier for so many people all across the country that were struggling in those same ways and had those same hopes and dreams.  So as a governor, he transformed education so more kids could pursue those dreams.  As President, he proved that, with the right choices, you could grow the economy, lift people out of poverty.  We could shrink our deficits and still invest in our families, our health, our schools, science, technology.  In other words, we can go farther when we look out for each other.  

And as we’ve all seen, as President, he was just getting started.  He doesn’t stop.  He’s helped lead relief efforts after the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake.  His foundation and global initiative have helped to save or improve the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people.  And, of course, I am most grateful for his patience during the endless travels of my Secretary of State.  (Laughter.) 

So I’m grateful, Bill, as well for the advice and counsel that you’ve offered me on and off the golf course.  (Laughter.)  And most importantly, for your lifesaving work around the world, which represents what’s the very best in America.  So thank you so much, President Clinton.  (Applause.)

So these are the recipients of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom.  These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us.  I could not be more happy and more honored to participate in this ceremony here today.

With that, what I would like to do is invite our honorees to just sit there and let all of us stand and give you a big round of applause.  (Applause.) 

I guess we should actually give them the medals, though.  (Laughter.)  Where are my — here we go.  Lee, you want to hit it?

MILITARY AIDE:  Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.

Ernie Banks.  (Applause.)  With an unmatched enthusiasm for America’s pastime, Ernie Banks slugged, sprinted and smiled his way into the record books.  Known to fans as “Mr. Cub,” he played an extraordinary 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, during which he was named to 11 All-Star teams, hit over 500 home runs, and won back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors.  Ernie Banks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, and he will forever be known as one of the finest power hitters and most dynamic players of all time.  (Applause.)  

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee.  (Applause.)  A titan of journalism, Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee is one of the most respected newsmen of his generation.  After serving our nation in World War II, Ben Bradlee went on to defend liberty here at home. Testing the limits of a free press during his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, he oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal and successfully challenged the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers. His passion for accuracy and unyielding pursuit of truth continue to set the standard for journalism.  (Applause.) 

The Honorable William J. Clinton.  (Applause.)  Among the finest public servants of our time, President William J. Clinton argued cases for the people of Arkansas, served his state in the Governor’s Mansion, and guided our nation into a new century.  As the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton oversaw an era of challenge and change, prosperity and progress.  His work after leaving public office continues to reflect his passionate, unending commitment to improving the lives and livelihoods of people around the world.  In responding to needs both at home and abroad, and as founder of the Clinton Foundation, he has shown that through creative cooperation among women and men of goodwill, we can solve even the most intractable problems.  (Applause.) 

Irene Hirano Inouye, accepting on behalf of her husband, the Honorable Daniel K. Inouye.  (Applause.)  A true patriot and dedicated public servant, Daniel K. Inouye understood the power of leaders when united in common purpose to protect and promote the tenets we cherish as Americans.  As a member of the revered 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Daniel Inouye helped free Europe from the grasp of tyranny during World War II, for which he received the Medal of Honor.  Representing the people of Hawaii from the moment the islands joined the Union, he never lost sight of the ideals that bind us across the 50 states.  Senator Inouye’s reason and resolve helped make our country what it is today, and for that, we honor him.  (Applause.) 

Dr. Daniel Kahneman.  (Applause.)  Daniel Kahneman’s groundbreaking work earned him a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his research developing prospect theory.  After escaping from Nazi-occupied France as a young boy and later joining the Israel Defense Forces, Dr. Kahneman grew interested in understanding the origins of people’s beliefs.  Combining psychology and economic analysis, and working alongside Dr. Amos Tversky, Dr. Kahneman used simple experiments to demonstrate how people make decisions under uncertain circumstances, and he forever changed the way we view human judgment.  (Applause.) 

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar.  (Applause.)  Representing the State of Indiana for over three decades in the United States Senate, Richard G. Lugar put country above party and self to forge bipartisan consensus.  Throughout his time in the Senate, he offered effective solutions to our national and international problems, advocating for the control of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.  Working with Senator Sam Nunn, Richard Lugar established the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, one of our country’s most successful national security initiatives, helping to sustain American leadership and engage nations in collaboration after decades of confrontation.  He remains a strong voice on foreign policy issues, and his informed perspective will have broad influence for years to come. (Applause.) 

Loretta Lynn.  (Applause.)  Born a coal miner’s daughter, Loretta Lynn has followed a bold path to become a legend in country music.  A singer, songwriter, and author, she has written dozens of chart-topping songs, released scores of albums, and won numerous accolades.  Breaking barriers in country music and entertainment, she opened doors for women not only by winning tremendous achievements, but also by raising issues few dared to discuss.  Fearlessly telling her own stories with candor and humor, Loretta Lynn has brought a strong female voice to mainstream music, captured the emotions of women and men alike, and revealed the common truths about life as it is lived.  (Applause.)  

Dr. Mario Molina.  (Applause.)  The curiosity and creativity that inspired Mario Molina to convert his family’s bathroom into a laboratory as a child have driven him through decades of scientific research.  Born in Mexico, Dr. Molina’s passion for chemistry brought him to the United States, where his investigations of chlorofluorocarbons led to breakthroughs in our understanding of how they deplete the ozone layer.  The impact of his discoveries extends far beyond his field, affecting environmental policy and fostering international awareness, as well as earning him the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  Today, Dr. Molina remains a global leader, continuing to study air quality, climate change, and the environment that connects us all.  (Applause.)

Tam O’Shaughnessy accepting on behalf of her life partner, Dr. Sally K. Ride.  (Applause.)  Thirty years ago, Dr. Sally K. Ride soared into space as the youngest American and first woman to wear the Stars and Stripes above Earth’s atmosphere.  As an astronaut, she sought to keep America at the forefront of space exploration.  As a role model, she fought tirelessly to inspire young people — especially girls — to become scientifically literate and to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.  At the end of her life, she became an inspiration for those battling pancreatic cancer, and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  The tale of a quiet hero, Sally Ride’s story demonstrates that the sky is no limit for those who dream of reaching for the stars.  (Applause.)

Walter Naegle accepting on behalf of his partner, Bayard Rustin.  (Applause.)  Bayard Rustin was a giant in the American Civil Rights Movement.  Openly gay at a time when many had to hide who they loved, his unwavering belief that we are all equal members of a “single human family” took him from his first Freedom Ride to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights movement.  Thanks to his unparalleled skills as an organizer, progress that once seemed impossible appears, in retrospect, to have been inevitable.  Fifty years after the March on Washington he organized, America honors Bayard Rustin as one of its greatest architects for social change and a fearless advocate for its most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  

Arturo Sandoval.  (Applause.)  Arturo Sandoval is one of the world’s finest jazz musicians.  Born into poverty in Cuba and held back by his government, he risked everything to share his gifts with the world — eventually defecting with help from Dizzy Gillespie, his mentor and friend.  In the decades since, this astonishing trumpeter, pianist, and composer has inspired audiences in every corner of the world and awakened a new generation of great performers.  He remains one of the best ever to play.  (Applause.)

     Linnea Smith, accepting on behalf of her husband, Dean E. Smith.  (Applause.)  Dean E. Smith spent 36 seasons taking college basketball to new heights.  As head coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he led his team to 11 Final Fours, two national titles, and 879 victories, retiring as the winningest men’s college basketball coach in history.  Dean Smith brought the same commitment to supporting his players off the court.  He helped more than 96 percent of his lettermen graduate.  And in an era of deep division, he taught players to overcome bigotry with courage and compassion.  He will forever stand as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.  (Applause.)

     Gloria Steiner.  (Applause.)  A trailblazing writer and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem has been at the forefront of the fight for equality and social justice for more than four decades.  Instrumental to a broad range of initiatives and issues, from establishing Ms. Magazine and Take Our Daughters to Work Day, to pushing for women’s self-empowerment and an end to sex trafficking.  She has promoted lasting political and social change in America and abroad.  Through her reporting and speaking, she has shaped debates on the intersection of sex and race, brought critical problems to national attention, and forged new opportunities for women in media.  Gloria Steinem continues to move us all to take up the cause of reaching for a more just tomorrow.  (Applause.)

     Reverend C.T. Vivian.  (Applause.)  Equipped only with courage and an overwhelming commitment to social justice, the Reverend C.T. Vivian was a stalwart activist on the march toward racial equality.  Whether at a lunch counter, on a Freedom Ride, or behind the bars of a prison cell, he was unafraid to take bold action in the face of fierce resistance.  By pushing change through nonviolent demonstration and advocacy, C.T. Vivian established and led numerous organizations to support underserved individuals and communities.  His legacy of combating injustice will shine as an example for generations to come.  (Applause.)

     Patricia McGowan Wald.  (Applause.)  Patricia McGowan Wald made history as the first woman appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  Rising to Chief Judge of the Court, she always strove to better understand the law and fairly apply it.  After leaving federal service, Judge Wald helped institute standards for justice and the rule of law at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.  Hailed as a model judge, she laid a foundation for countless women within the legal profession and helped unveil the humanity within the law.  (Applause.)

     Oprah G. Winfrey.  (Applause.)  Oprah G. Winfrey is a global media icon.  When she launched The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986, there were few women — and even fewer women of color — with a national platform to discuss the issues and events shaping our times.  But over the 25 years that followed, Oprah Winfrey’s innate gift for tapping into our most fervent hopes and deepest fears drew millions of viewers across every background, making her show the highest-rated talk show in television history.  Off screen, Oprah Winfrey has used her influence to support underserved communities and to lift up the lives of young people — especially young women — around the world.  In her story, we are reminded that no dream can be deferred when we refuse to let life’s obstacles keep us down.  (Applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  The Medal of Freedom honorees — please.  (Applause.) 

Well, that concludes the formal part of today’s ceremony.  I want to thank all of you for being here.  Obviously, we are deeply indebted to those who we honor here today.  And we’re going to have an opportunity to take some pictures with the honorees and their family members. 

The rest of you, I understand the food here is pretty good. (Laughter.)  So I hope you enjoy the reception, and I hope we carry away from this a reminder of what JFK understood to be the essence of the American spirit — that it’s represented here.  And some of us may be less talented, but we all have the opportunity to serve and to open people’s hearts and minds in our smaller orbits.  So I hope everybody has been as inspired, as I have been, participating and being with these people here today.

     Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

Nancy Pelosi, Betty Ford inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the late former first lady Betty Ford are among the nine women inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame on Oct. 12.

The ceremony was held in Seneca Falls, the western New York village where the first known women’s rights convention was held in 1848.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. I can’t believe it,” Pelosi told The Associated Press before the ceremony.

“Sexual Politics” author Kate Millett also was honored, as well as horse racing’s most successful female jockey, Julie Krone; Ina May Gaskin, who is known as the “mother of authentic midwifery”; women’s college rights advocate Bernice Sandler, and monetary scholar Anna Jacobson Schwartz, who collaborated with Nobel laureate Milton Friedman on “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,” published in 1963. She died last year.

The inductees also included the late Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who in 1912 founded Maryknoll Sisters, the first U.S.-based Catholic missionary congregation of religious women, and 19th-century educator Emma Hart Willard, who advocated for equal education for women in higher education in the early 1800s.

“The 2013 inductees again represent the spirit of Seneca Falls and the groundbreaking events that inspired the nation and the world,” Beverly Ryder, co-president of the board of directors, said in announcing the inductees this year.

Pelosi, from California, was recognized for more than 25 years in politics and as the nation’s first female House speaker and first woman to lead a major U.S. political party. This year she launched a women-based agenda on the 165th anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention, advocating for equal pay for women, paid family leave and affordable child care, which she said is the biggest missing piece to the fulfillment of women’s potential.

“Our national security will be stronger, our economy will be more competitive, our politics will be more wholesome and our academic life will be enriched the more we unleash the power of women,” Pelosi said.

Ford, who was first lady from 1974 to 1977, shared her struggles with breast cancer and addiction and co-founded the treatment center that bears her name.

Sandler, senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, filed the first charges of sex discrimination against 250 educational institutions in 1970. She was instrumental in the passage of the 1972 Title IX law requiring gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding.

Krone, in 2000, was the first woman to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In 1993, she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race when she rode Colonial Affair in the Belmont Stakes. She was also the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race at the 2003 Juvenile Fillies.

The inductees join the ranks of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, tennis pro Billie Jean King, astronaut Sally Ride and actress Lucille Ball. A new class is selected every other year based on the inductees’ lasting contributions to society. In all, 247 women have been inducted so far.

Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin to posthumously receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama today announced that Bayard Rustin, the late civil and human rights advocate, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

An aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rustin was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He also was openly gay.

“Bayard Rustin’s contributions to the American civil rights movement remain paramount to its successes to this day,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “His role in the fight for civil rights of African-Americans is all the more admirable because he made it as a gay man, experiencing prejudice not just because of his race, but because of his sexual orientation as well.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States and recognizes individuals who made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

The White House said Rustin was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted non-violent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

He also worked to end apartheid in South Africa, fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, worked to protect the property of Japanese Americans interned during World War II and helped highlight the plight of Vietnamese “boat people.”

“Bayard Rustin dedicated his life to advocating for fairness and equality and overcame prejudice to help move our nation forward,” said Griffin.

The president also announced 15 other recipients, saying, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

The recipients are:

Ernie Banks. Known to many as “Mr. Cub,” Banks had 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit more than 500 home runs and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility. 

Ben Bradlee. During his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, Bradlee oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal, successfully challenged the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers and guided the newspaper through some of its most challenging moments. He also served in the Navy during World War II.

Bill Clinton. President Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States. Before taking office, he served as Governor and Attorney General of the state of Arkansas. Following his second term in the White House, he established the Clinton Foundation to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment. He also formed the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund with President George W. Bush in 2010.

Daniel Inouye (posthumous). As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. Senator Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union. 

Daniel Kahneman. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University.

Richard Lugar. Richard Lugar represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years. An internationally respected statesman, he is best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Prior to serving in Congress, Lugar was a Rhodes Scholar and mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975.  He currently serves as president of the Lugar Center.

Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn is a country music legend. Raised in rural Kentucky, she emerged as one of the first successful female country music vocalists in the early 1960s, breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men. Lynn’s numerous accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Mario Molina. Mario Molina is a chemist and environmental scientist. Born in Mexico, Molina came to America to pursue his graduate degree. He later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer.  

Sally Ride (posthumous). Sally Ride was the first American female astronaut to travel to space. As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Ride also served in several administrations as an advisor on space exploration.

Arturo Sandoval. Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer. Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen.  He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.

Dean Smith. Dean Smith was head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team from 1961 to 1997.  In those 36 years, he earned 2 national championships, was named National Coach of the Year multiple times, and retired as the winningest men’s college basketball coach in history.  Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Smith has also remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.

Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem is a renowned writer and activist for women’s equality. She was a leader in the women’s liberation movement, co-founded Ms. magazine, and helped launch a wide variety of groups and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Steinem has received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an active voice for women’s rights.

Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian. C.T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author and organizer.  A leader in the civil rights movement and friend to the Martin Luther King Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country.  Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal.  In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Patricia Wald. Patricia Wald is one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation. After graduating as 1 of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, she became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991.  She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. 

Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey is best known for creating “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women.  She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.

The top coming-out stories of 2012

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper has been presumed gay for many years now, but this year he made it official. “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud” he wrote to friend and blogger Andrew Sullivan, who posted to the statement. Cooper is the sixth and best-known openly anchor in the cable news business – joining Don Lemon, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Thomas Roberts, Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki.

Paul Babeu

Although he still stands strong on immigration restrictions, Arizona’s Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu softened his views on LGBT rights after he was outed by a former lover ­– a Mexican national. The former lover told the press that the right-wing sheriff threatened him with deportation if he went public about their relationship. Babeu denied that allegation but acknowledged his sexual orientation. A backlash over the controversy forced Babeu to drop out of the congressional race in his conservative district. But he was reelected sheriff, likely the first out sheriff in his county.

Matt Bomer

Growing up, Matt Bomer always assumed he was gay but stayed safely in the closet. He auditioned for the school play and tried out for the football team – just for good measure. But no longer afraid of the extra attention, Bomer proudly thanked his wonderful family (husband Simon Halls and their 3 sons) at a Palm Springs Convention Center in 2012. Although he says coming out has made him a happier person, published reports say that it’s cost him film roles, including the lead in the upcoming film version “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Anne Burrell

Food Network’s “Secrets of a Restaurant Chef” host Anne Burrell had a bit more than  her culinary secrets reveled this year. During an interview, Ted Allen of the show “Chopped” blurted out that Burrell was not only in a relationship with a woman, but a fellow top-notch chef. The news made Burrell the first openly gay Food Network star chef.

Sam Champion

After 14 years as the most recognizable weather man on “Good Morning America,” Sam Champion happily announced his recent engagement to Brazilian fine-arts photographer Rubem Robierb this year. With that announcement, the 51-year-old Champion became the first openly gay co-host of a network morning TV show. Champion and his intended plan to wed in a small ceremony on New Year’s Eve.

Orlando Cruz

Holding the No. 4 ranking in the World Boxing Organization’s featherweight category isn’t the only reason Orlando Cruz’s name is famous. In October, the 31-year-old Puerto Rican boxer became the first active, openly gay boxer.  Since the news went public, Cruz has received overwhelming support from his fellow boxers. Asked about his love life, the hard hitter responded that his mind is all about the fight: “The title belt is my new boyfriend,” he quipped.

Rep. Mike Fleck

Residents of Pennsylvania’s 81st Legislative District can rest easier knowing they have honest representation now that state Rep. Mike Fleck has come out. The announcement came as a shock to many of his constituents. The 39-year-old lawmaker had been married before and was known as a devout Christian. But Fleck assured his constituents that nothing has changed: “I am still a Republican,” he told press, “and, most importantly, I’m still a person of faith trying to live life as a servant of God and the public.” Only now without any secrets.

Kevin McClatchy

Former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy wanted to check another thing off his list before turning 50 next year: to finally come out. Back in 1996, when McClatchy was only 33 years old, he made history by becoming the youngest owner of a major league baseball team, despite the threat of being outed by someone upset over the deal. McClatchy called the blackmailer’s bluff and kept his secret while going on to own the Pirates for nine years. He now resides with his partner of four years, Jack Basilone.

Kristy McNichol

Better known to most as Letitia ‘Buddy’ Lawrence, from the TV show “Family,” Kristy McNichol returned to the spotlight this year for other reasons. The 49-year-old former actress announced that she had been living with her partner, Martie Allen, happily for the past 20 years. McNichol said she hoped the publicity surrounding her announcement would provide some support to young people struggling with coming-out issues.

Frank Ocean

Hip-hop artist Frank Ocean is no stranger to headlines. His name is often seen alongside those of artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Beyonce. He’s also won titles such as “Best New Artist,” “Record of the Year,” and “Best Male Video of the Year.” But on Independence Day 2012, Ocean made headlines after posting a story on his website paying homage to his first love – a young man he met when he was 19. The hip-hop community rushed to his support and business continued as usual when he released the acclaimed “Channel Orange” album. The 24-year-old said his next challenge may be writing a novel.

Nate Silver

For years, he worked behind the scenes gathering statistics for a multitude of things, including a gig at OkCupid calculating the best night to have a successful ‘casual encounter.’ But Nate Silver gained attention for successfully applying a math-based forecasting system to baseball, and he became a household name for developing a formula that uses polls to predict election outcomes with astounding accuracy. The 34–year–old statistician writes a blog titled “FiveThirtyEight” for The New York Times, and he hit the bestseller list this year with his book “The Signal and the Noise.” Also this year, he was named OUT magazine’s “person of the year” after publicly coming out.  He described himself as “sexually gay but ethnically straight.”

Tammy Smith

Achieving a high-ranking position for a woman in the Armed Forces is difficult enough. But in August, Tammy Smith broke a glass ceiling when she was promoted to brigadier general, making her the first out gay general in the Army. Thanks to the repeal of  “don’t ask, don’t tell, Smith’s wife Tracey Hepner was able to maintain an Army tradition by proudly pinning the star of general on her wife’s uniform. Smith said she hopes the publicity surrounding her promotion encourages others in the military.

Lana Wachowski

The ending of their most recent work “Cloud Atlas” wasn’t the only surprise this year for fans of the Wachowski sibling’s films (which include “The Matrix Trilogy” and “V for Vendetta”). Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry, surprised fans by recently announcing her decision to live openly as a transgendered woman. Now 47 and sporting neon pink dreadlocks and a smile from ear to ear, Wachowski was radiant as she told her story to an audience at a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser in San Francisco.


Sherman Hemsley

Although he’s been gone from our living rooms for decades (unless you count re-runs), actor Sherman Hemsley, best known for his portrayal of George Jefferson on “The Jefferson’s”, lost his battle to lung cancer this year at age 74. Although his character was often loud and harsh, Hemsley was quite the opposite. “I don’t slam doors in people’s faces, and I’m not a bigot. I’m just an old hippie. You know – peace and love,” he said in an interview. As a result of pending lawsuits about his estate, it was made public that he had been residing with Kenny Johnston, a gentleman referred to as a “friend” for the past two decades. Little is known about their relationship, but this seems to confirm VH1’s 2007 description of Hemsley as their “top favorite allergy gay black actor from the past.”

Sally Ride

Known mostly as the first American woman in space, Sally Ride lived her post-astronaut days dedicated to space discovery, science, and helping young girls develop careers in math and science. It was only when she died of pancreatic cancer at age 61 that the world learned that she’d had a beloved partner – Tam O’Shaughnessy –for the past 27 years. The Ride name is familiar to the LGBT community: Bear Ride, Sally’s sister, is a high-profile lesbian ordained minister who is active in LGBT civil rights efforts. NASA recently named a moon landing site after Sally Ride, thanking her for always encouraging us to “reach for the stars.”

Local outings

Aaron Rogers

Madison radio personality Aaron Rogers (not to be confused with the football player) chose National Coming Out day to make a huge announcement on the air. With Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” playing in the background, the Z104 radio personality announced that from that moment on he would be living his life as an openly gay man. Although he had come out to his family almost five years earlier, Rogers had been keeping his orientation a secret from his fans.

JoCasta Zamarripa

State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa decided this was the year to do it. So in the middle of a primary election, the 36-year-old came out as a bi-sexual woman. Although rumors of her orientation circled her 2010 campaign, Zamarripa said she lacked the courage to face them head one. She says coming to terms with her sexuality was quite a journey – in her 20s she unable to even mention it in her diary, she confessed. She hopes by being confident and content with who she is, Zamarripa can inspire young people struggling with their identities.

NASA names moon crash site in honor of Sally Ride

A pair of NASA spacecraft crashed into a mountain near the moon’s north pole earlier this month, bringing a deliberate end to a mission that peered into the lunar interior.

Engineers commanded the twin spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, to fire their engines and burn their remaining fuel. Ebb plunged first followed by Flow about 30 seconds later.

Afterward, NASA said it had dedicated the final resting spot in honor of mission team member, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space who died earlier this year. By design, the impact site was far away from the Apollo landings and other historical sites.

Ride’s sister, who huddled in the NASA control room for the finale, said it might be time to dust off Ride’s first telescope to view the newly named site.

“We can look at the moon with a new appreciation and a smile in the evening when we see it knowing that a little corner of the moon is named after Sally,” the Rev. Bear Ride said in an interview.

Since the back-to-back crashes occurred in the dark, they were not visible from Earth. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the moon will pass over the mountain and attempt to photograph the skid marks left by the washing machine sized-spacecraft as they hit the surface at 3,800 mph (6,100 kph).

After rocketing off the launch pad in September 2011, Ebb and Flow took a roundabout journey to the moon, arriving over the New Year’s holiday on a gravity-mapping mission.

More than 100 missions have been flung to Earth’s nearest neighbor since the dawn of the Space Age including NASA’s six Apollo moon landings that put 12 astronauts on the surface.

The loss of Ebb and Flow comes on the same month as the 40th launch anniversary of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.

Ebb and Flow focused exclusively on measuring the moon’s lumpy gravity field in a bid to learn more about its interior and early history. After flying in formation for months, they produced the most detailed gravity maps of any body in the solar system.

Secrets long held by the moon are spilling out. Ebb and Flow discovered that the lunar crust is much thinner than scientists had imagined. And it was severely battered by asteroids and comets in the early years of the solar system _ more than previously realized.

Data so far also appeared to quash the theory that Earth once had two moons that collided and melded into the one we see today.

Besides a scientific return, the mission allowed students to take their own pictures of craters and other lunar features as part of collaboration with a science education company founded by Ride, who died in July of pancreatic cancer at age 61. About 3,600 classrooms around the world participated, sending back 114,000 photos.

Scientists expect to sift through data and images from the $487 million mission for years.

Obtaining precise gravity calculations required the twins to circle low over the moon, which consumes a lot of fuel. During the primary mission, they flew about 35 miles (56 kilometers) above the lunar surface. After getting bonus data-collecting time, they lowered their altitude to 14 miles (23 kilometers) above the surface.

With their fuel tanks almost on empty, NASA devised a controlled crash to avoid contacting any of the treasured sites on the moon. Mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory applauded when they lost the signal, one of the rare celebrations of a spacecraft’s demise.

Mission chief scientist Maria Zuber approached Ride’s family about a month ago about naming the impact site. Zuber said she will also petition the International Astronomical Union to name a mountain after the late astronaut as well.

“We looked very hard to find a very prominent feature on the near side of the moon that didn’t have a name,” said Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ride publicly came out as a lesbian posthumously in statements released by her family.

Sue Black deserved better

However the saga of Sue Black ends, the former Milwaukee County Parks director can certainly be gratified by the outpouring of public support after her sudden firing by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Known for her strong work ethic, her cooperation with community groups and her skillful management of reduced budgets to maintain our extensive parks, Black was widely respected. Her firing was a surprise to everyone, including county supervisors who approved her reappointment this spring.

The clumsy handling of her firing – locking her out of her office and announcing it at a press conference – struck a universal chord among Milwaukeeans, many of whom have been pink-slipped, “voluntarily” retired and otherwise terminated in recent years.

Regarding her lock-out, a standard protocol of big, paranoid bureaucracies: Did they think the long-term, well-paid and much honored Black was going to steal paper clips or sabotage the databases of county golf courses or toilets?

Abele called a press conference to announce Black’s firing, only to express frustration with reporters who asked him the obvious question: “Why?” Wearing a smarmy grin, Abele said sarcastically, “I don’t owe you gossip,” which of course only fueled more gossip.

Personally, I hope that Black was insubordinate. When working in any hierarchy run by tyrants or nincompoops, it’s the most honorable reason to be fired. And, hey, Black’s a lesbian. We tend not to suffer fools gladly. How could you not tell Abele he’s on the wrong path regarding the future of the parks if parks have been your whole life and what you strongly believe in? How could you not tell him that he’s a condescending creep when he orders you to “get with the program” with that Cheshire cat grin of his?

Sue Black rejected a lucrative offer to head the Chicago parks system a while back to stay in Milwaukee. I’m confident she’ll land on her feet and end her career in a better position than she’s had so far.

Here’s a few words about another fine public servant, also a lesbian, Sally Ride. I got two questions about Ride from many people: Did you know she was gay?

My simple reply to most was that I didn’t know, but was happy to learn it. I had always assumed so. I’m kind of a lesbian chauvinist and assume that most women who are extremely talented and brave and accomplished probably are lesbians!

The second question was: Should the media have outed Ride after she died?

Ride was in a 27-year relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy that she did not publicize but also did not hide from family, friends or colleagues. She may have felt that coming out publicly would harm her work. She may not have wanted to become a symbol for any cause beyond her passion, which was science. Or she may have felt it was just nobody’s business. Obituaries made clear she led a life of diligent study, hard work and sterling integrity.

Ride could have used her considerable celebrity after her journeys to space in many financially profitable ways. Instead, she stayed close to NASA, serving on panels investigating the Challenger and Columbia disasters. She taught physics at University of California-San Diego and traveled widely promoting science education to girls. It’s good to know that Ride was a lesbian, but her heroism and her legacy is so much bigger than that.

Sally Ride sparks debate on posthumous coming out

Pioneering U.S. astronaut Sally Ride, who relished privacy as much as she did adventure, chose an appropriately discreet manner of coming out. At the end of an obituary that she co-wrote with her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, they disclosed to the world their relationship of 27 years.

As details emerged after Ride’s death, it became clear that a circle of family, friends and co-workers had long known of the same-sex relationship and embraced it. For millions of others, who admired Ride as the first American woman in space, it was a revelation – and it sparked a spirited discussion about privacy vs. public candor in regard to sexual orientation.

Some commentators, such as prominent gay blogger Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast, second-guessed Ride’s decision to opt for privacy.

“She had a chance to expand people’s horizons and young lesbians’ hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to,” he wrote. “She was the absent heroine.”

Others were supportive of Ride’s choices.

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who in 2003 became the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world, noted that both he and Ride were baby boomers who grew up “in a time when coming out was almost unthinkable.”

Robinson is 65. Ride was 61 when she died of pancreatic cancer.

“For girls who had an interest in science and wanted to go places women had not been allowed to go, she was a tremendous role model,” Robinson said. “The fact that she chose to keep her identity as a lesbian private – I honor that choice.”

However, Robinson said he had a different standard for younger gays – to the point of insisting that his own clergy in New Hampshire be open about their sexuality if they are gay or lesbian.

“While there is still discrimination, and coming out will still have repercussions, the effect of those repercussions are vastly reduced now,” Robinson said. “I believe that times have changed.”

There’s no question that gays and lesbians overall are coming out now at a higher rate and an earlier age than those of previous generations. According to the LGBT Movement Advancement Project, adults aged 30-54 are 16 times more likely to be closeted than those under 30.

In pop culture, the fine arts, the entertainment industry and some individual sports, it’s now commonplace for luminaries to be out as gay or lesbian. But in many other fields, the dynamics are different.

Aside from Ride, no other astronaut of any nation has come out as gay. No active player in the four major North American pro sports leagues – football, basketball, baseball, hockey – has come out as gay, though some retired players have done so. Ken Mehlman came out as gay only after he completed his stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, 51 percent of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual workers hide their sexual identity to most or all of their fellow employees. Citing those findings, gay rights activists have been pushing, so far in vain, for Congress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications, said his initial reaction to the revelation about Ride was, “What a shame that we didn’t learn this while she was alive.”

“However, the fact it was acknowledged in death will be an incredibly powerful message to all Americans about the contributions of their LGBT counterparts,” Sainz said. “The completeness of her life will be honored correctly.”

Ride’s sister, Bear Ride, a lesbian who has been active in gay rights causes, e-mailed a supportive explanation of Ride’s choice.

“She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way,” she wrote. “She hated labels (including ‘hero’).”
Carolyn Porco, a prominent planetary scientist and leader of the imaging team on NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, met Ride many years ago when she was an astronaut candidate, already steeped in the NASA mindset of reserve and self-effacement.

“Following her career all these years, she struck me as a woman of impeccable class, and it doesn’t surprise she wanted to keep her private life private,” Porco said. “I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, and I’d love for us all to get to the place where it doesn’t matter anymore.”

That’s been a common theme in the commentary about Ride’s relationship – a hope that American society will someday reach a point where being gay or lesbian is no more noteworthy than being straight.

Sarah Blazucki, editor of Philadelphia Gay News, said that day has not arrived.

“It’s still important to come out, because we’re not post-gay yet,” she said. “When we do have full equality, then it’s a different story.”

Gay blogger Bil Browning, said the revelation about Ride left him with mixed feelings.

“I wish that she had come out while she was alive,” he said. “The statement that would have been sent to young lesbians across the country would have been like Obama’s election was to African-American kids.”

On the other hand, he acknowledged generational differences and said Ride was entitled to her privacy.

“The activist in me thinks it’s a missed opportunity,” Browning said. “But she did the right thing at the end.”

Sally Ride, first U.S. woman in space, dies at 61

Sally Ride, who blazed trails into orbit as the first American woman in space, died July 23 of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Ride died at her home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, said Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman for her company, Sally Ride Science. She was a private person and the details of her illness were kept to just a few people, she said.

She is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.

Ride rode into space on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 when she was 32. After her flight, more than 42 other American women flew in space, NASA said.

“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said Ride “broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program.”

“The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers,” he said in a statement.

Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.

She was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, the same year she earned her doctorate in physics from Stanford University. She beat out five women to be the first American female in space. Her first flight came two decades after the Soviets sent a woman into space

“On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad,” Ride recalled in a NASA interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. “I didn’t really think about it that much at the time — but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space.”

Ride flew in space twice, both times on Challenger in 1983 and in 1984, logging 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards.

She also was on the president’s committee of science advisers.

The 20th anniversary of her first flight also coincided with the loss of Columbia, a bittersweet time for Ride, who discussed it in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. She acknowledged it was depressing to spend the anniversary investigating the accident, which killed seven astronauts.

“But in another sense, it’s rewarding because it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution and part of the changes that will occur and will make the program better,” she said.

Later in the interview, she focused on science education and talked about “being a role model and being very visible.”

“She was very smart,” said former astronaut Norman Thagard, who was on Ride’s first flight. “We did have a good time.”

It was all work on that first flight, except for a first-in-space sprint around the inside of the shuttle, Thagard recalled by phone on Monday. He didn’t know who won.

One of Ride’s last legacies was allowing middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA’s twin Grail spacecraft in a project spearheaded by her company.

“Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that’s such a powerful thing. It’s extraordinarily admirable,” said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.

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