(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – to 16 people, including a homosexual who led the socialist party in the United States and astronaut Sally Ride, whose partner “outed” her as a lesbian in Ride’s obituary last year.
On Bayard Rustin’s website, his lover and the executor of his estate, Walter Naegle, wrote about the gay activist’s life, including his 10-year homosexual relationship with the author and his national chairmanship of the Social Democrats USA, formerly the Socialist Party of America.
“As a gay man, relatively open for his time, Bayard Rustin experienced anti-gay prejudice in addition to racial discrimination,” stated Naegle’s essay, posted along with a photograph of the two men together and one of Naegle wearing a woman’s skirt. “Because of his sexual orientation as well as his controversial political positions, he was often relegated to a behind-the-scenes role in various campaigns.”
According to an Aug. 29 interview with Naegle on thegrio.com, the two men met in Times Square in 1977 when Naegle was 27 and Rustin was 65. According to Naegle, Rustin legally adopted him as a son, because they could not be married.
In Rustin’s obituary, Naegle was described as his adopted son--a status Naegle challenged in describing their relationship after Rustin’s death in numerous media interviews.
"Sally Ride, who died on Monday, can help put a face to a national problem. She was the first American woman and the youngest American ever to travel in space-the kind of accomplishment that automatically gets you the label of "inspiration for generations of young Americans" and an obit in the Times," said a blog in the New York Times when Ride died last year. "What's less well known is that Ms. Ride was gay. Family and friends were aware of her 27-year relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy, but the wider public was not."
In an article Tuesday on the Human Rights Campaign’s website ahead of the medal ceremony with Obama, O’Shaughnessy spoke about the award.
“Tam O’Shaughnessy will be present at the ceremony, alongside members of Sally’s family, to accept on Sally’s behalf,” the article stated.
“This award sends a message to the world, including to Russia, that equality is important, respect is important,” O’Shaughnessy said in the article.
Obama praised all of his awardees for carrying on the legacy of President John F. Kennedy and for their “contributions” to the nation.
“That’s who we are--a people whose greatness comes not by settling for what we can achieve in our own lives, but also because we dare to ask what we can do, as citizens, to contribute to this grand experiment we call America,” Obama said.
“And that’s what our Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees embody, each and every one of them who are here today and those who we remember posthumously. “
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, praised Obama’s choices for medal recipients.
“We are delighted that President Obama has chosen to award three pioneering leaders who helped to change America for the better,” Carey said, citing Rustin, Ride and feminist activist Gloria Steinem, who she called “a global icon of feminism, liberation and freedom.”