Simone Biles, Steve Jobs to receive highest US civilian honour

The White House announced that President Joe Biden will present 17 people with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour.

The White House said that recipients include those who have “made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors”.

Among those selected for the prestigious award are Simone Biles, the most decorated US gymnast in history who has spoken out about issues such as sexual abuse and Steve Jobs, the former executive of Apple computers who died in 2011 and will receive the medal posthumously.

Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant whose son was killed in Iraq and became a target of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign after speaking at the Democratic Convention, will also receive the medal. Khan was an outspoken opponent of Trump’s Muslim Ban and asked if Trump had “even read the US Constitution”.

The award is given to those who “have overcome significant obstacles” to “drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come,” according to the White House.

The recipients represent a broad range of professions and contributions to public life, from politics and social justice to the arts and academia. Biden received the award himself in January 2017 for his many years of public service.

A ceremony to celebrate those who have been given the award will take place at the White House on July 7.

The other medal recipients are:

Sister Simone Campbell. Campbell is a member of the Sister of Social Service and a former executive director of NETWRK, a Catholic social justice organisation. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the US immigration system and healthcare policy.

John McCain. John McCain was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the US Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the US House of Representatives and US Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008. McCain died of brain cancer in 2018.

Denzel Washington. Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for more than 25 years.

Sandra Lindsay. Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for healthcare workers.

Julieta Garcia. A former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Garcia was the first Latina to become a college president, the White House said. She was named one of the nation’s best college presidents by Time magazine.

US footballer Megan Rapinoe is scheduled to receive the honour at the July 7 White House ceremony [File: Benoit Tessier/Reuters]

Gabrielle Giffords. A former US House member from Arizona, the Democrat founded Giffords, an organisation dedicated to ending gun violence. She was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson and was gravely wounded.

Fred Gray. Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after Reconstruction. He was a prominent civil rights lawyer who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.

Father Alexander Karloutsos. Karloutsos is the assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America. The White House said Karloutsos has counselled several US presidents.

Diane Nash. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash organised some of the most important 20th-century civil rights campaigns and worked with King.

Megan Rapinoe. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup football champion captains the OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights who has appeared at Biden’s White House.

Still image from video shows U.S. Senator McCain speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate after a vote on healthcare reform in Washington
US Senator John McCain who died in 2018 is being awarded the medal posthumously [File: Senate TV/Handout via Reuters]

Alan Simpson. The retired US senator from Wyoming served with Biden and has been a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka. Trumka had been president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade at the time of his August 2021 death. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.

Wilma Vaught. A brigadier general, Vaught is one of the most decorated women in US military history, breaking gender barriers as she has risen through the ranks. When Vaught retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the US armed forces.

Raul Yzaguirre. A civil rights advocate, Yzaguirre was president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as US ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.

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