Billie Jean King would receive Congressional Gold Medal under federal bill

Billie Jean King — an LGBTQ trailblazer and women’s sports pioneer — would be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for “her vast achievements and contributions to athletics, women’s rights, the LGBT community, and American culture” under federal legislation introduced Tuesday.

In January, Billie Jean King was awarded the Australian Open’s Woman of the Year. Photo: Billie Jean King Twitter.

BILLIE JEAN KING

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, one of the authors of H. R. 5001, the Billie Jean King Congressional Gold Medal Act, said King redefined the role of women in sports, the United States, and around the world. Rep. Joe Crowley, D-New York, is the other bill sponsor.

“The word icon is simply too small to capture the enormous impact she has had on not just tennis, not just on the United States, but on the world,” Lowenthal said in a press statement. “She has not only earned this honor — She deserves it for the ground she has broken and the paths that she has set.”

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CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL

The Congressional Gold Medal is considered one of the highest civilian honors.

King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

For a person to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, two-thirds of the House and 67 senators must support the bill.

TENNIS ACHIEVEMENTS

  • King, 74, a Long Beach native, won 39 major singles, doubles and mixed-doubles tennis championships during more than 30-year tennis career, including a record 20 wins at Wimbledon.
  • She is also founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and the nonprofit Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative.
  • King threatened to boycott the 1973 US Open if equal prize money was not awarded. King’s fight for equal prize money in the Grand Slams took 34 years — In 2007, Wimbledon became the last of the four to fall to agree.
  • On Sept. 20, 1973, at 29, King played in the “Battle of the Sexes” match in the Houston Astrodome, against 55 year-old former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs. King won the match in straight sets and the $100,000 winner-takes-all price. The film “Battle of the Sexes” was released last year in theaters and on DVD in January. Oscar winner Emma Stone portrays King.

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LGBTQ EQUALITY

In 1981, King was sued in a palimony lawsuit by Marilyn Barnett and came out as a “bisexual.”

In 1987, after divorcing her husband, King acknowledged she was a lesbian. Since then, King has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality.

The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to a range of recipients, from George Washington to Rosa Parks to Frank Sinatra and former Senator Bob Dole.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.