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Billie Jean King to receive Smithsonian’s Great Americans medal

Billie Jean King

Tennis icon and LGBTQ activist Billie Jean King will be honored Tuesday night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with a Great Americans medal. Photo: Andrew Coppa.

Tennis titan Billie Jean King will be honored Tuesday night at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with a Great Americans medal.

King, 74, who grew up in Long Beach, will receive the medal “for lifetime contributions that embody American ideals and ideas” during a special ceremony at the museum.

Prior to receiving the medal, King, a 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, also will be interviewed by David M. Rubenstein, chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

King was in the news last week as the Los Angeles Dodgers announced that King and her girlfriend of 39 years, Ilana Kloss, 62, became part owners of the baseball team.

King may be best known for defeating Bobby Riggs, 55, in one of the greatest moments in sports history, the “Battle of the Sexes,” which took place Sept. 20, 1973. King was 29 at the time.

King’s “Battle of the Sexes” tennis dress is a part of the museum’s collections and is on view at the Bullock Museum in Austin, Texas.

King has been a trailblazer for decades.

  • King won 39 major singles, doubles and mixed-doubles tennis championships during more than 30-year tennis career, including a record 20 wins at Wimbledon.
  • King raised eyebrows on the court in the 1970s when she wore Ted Tinling’s designer fashions.
  • King is founder of the Women’s Tennis Association.
  • 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.
  • In 2014, King and Kloss co-founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which addresses diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • King is under consideration for a Congressional Gold Medal

Contact the journalist: phillip.zonkel@qvoicenews.com

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.

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