A lesbian activist who helped secure hospital visitation rights for gay couples across the country on Thursday received the nation’s second-highest civilian honor.
Janice Langbehn, who was unable to visit her partner in 2007 before she died in a Florida hospital, was among 13 recipients of the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal. During a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Obama conferred the medals to each of the recipients.
Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.
During his remarks, Obama paid special heed to award recipients who took action after their families endured hardship. For Langbehn, the trial was being separated from her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, as she lay dying in the hospital after suffering from a brian aneurysm.
“As a father and husband, I can’t begin to imagine the grief that they must have felt in that moment — their anger and their sense that the world was not fair,” Obama said. “But they refused to let that anger define them. They each became, in Janice’s words, an ‘accidental activist.’ And thanks to their work, there are parents and partners who will never have to go through what they went through.”
Obama conferred the award to Langbehn, a lesbian who hails from Lacey, Wash., after a military aide standing the near the stage read a description of her accomplishments.
“Janice Langbehn transformed her own profound loss into a resounding call for compassion and equality,” the aide said. “Determined to spare others from similar injustice, Janice spoke out and helped ensure that same-sex couples can support and comfort each other through some of life’s toughest trials. The United States honors Janice Langbehn for advancing America’s promise of equality for all.”