Snap Fact #160
President Obama Showed Early Support For Gay And Lesbian Americans By Awarding The Presidential Medal Of Freedom To Harvey Milk And Billie Jean King!
President Harry S. Truman, established the Presidential Medal of Freedom Awards in 1945. These honors were given to civilians who had "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors" for their efforts during World War II. Over the years the effect of the Award was watered down by indiscriminate distribution.
By 1963, under an executive order issued by President Kennedy, the Medal's prestige was increased and its purpose was broadened. Under the new criteria, the Medal of Freedom would be "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". Since that time the Medal of Freedom has become the most respected American civilian decoration. Because the recipients are personally chosen by the President this feature allows us to peek into the heart and mind of each President. The President's choices are clearly a reflection of their values and their character.
On August 12, 2009, President Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to 16 hand picked recipients. The specific theme of the 2009 awards was that the selected recipients were all considered to be agents of change who, "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 way". The President continued, "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 Freedom."