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Billie Jean King could receive Congressional Gold Medal

Billie Jean King Congressional Gold Medal

Billie Jean King could receive one of the nation’s highest civilian honors under a bill introduced today in Congress. The Billie Jean King Gold Medal Act would award King the Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of her contribution to the Nation and her courageous and groundbreaking leadership advancing equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community in athletics, education, and our society,” according to the bill. Photo: KK Ottesen

Billie Jean King could receive one of the nation’s highest civilian honors under a bill introduced today in Congress.

The Billie Jean King Gold Medal Act would award King the Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of her contribution to the Nation and her courageous and groundbreaking leadership advancing equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community in athletics, education, and our society,” according to the bill.

Billie Jean King

Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal introduced the bill.  

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“Billie Jean King, through her passion, her leadership, and her vision, redefined the role of women in both sports and American culture,” Lowenthal said in a statement. “The word icon is simply not enough to describe the tremendous impact she has had on not only tennis and the United States, but on the entire world.

“She is a pioneer in athletics, a trailblazer in the fight for equality, a role model for women and the LGBT community, and an inspiration to every American,” Lowenthal said. “She has not only earned this honor — She deserves it for the ground she has broken and the paths that she has set.”

Lowenthal introduced the same bill in 2018, but it never received a hearing and died.

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Long Beach native

A Long Beach native, King, 76, won 39 major singles, doubles, and mixed-doubles tennis championships during her more than 30-year tennis career, including a record 20 wins at Wimbledon.

King was a fierce advocate for Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.  It was signed into law in 1972. That portion outlaws sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports.

LGBTQ equality

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

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In the years that followed, King was and has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ equality.

King is also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and the non-profit Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. The U.S. Tennis Association National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, home of the U.S. Open Grand Slam tennis tournament, is named in her honor, as is the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Long Beach.

Last year, the new main library in downtown Long Beach was also named in honor of King.

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Congressional Gold Medal

The Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by Congress to recognize an individual’s monumental impact on American culture. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which King was awarded in 2009, the Congressional Gold Medal ranks as one the highest civilian awards in the country.

“I am so proud to be an American and it would be an amazing honor to receive the Congressional Gold Medal,” King said in the same statement. “I fully appreciate the importance and the significance of this honor and to be considered is a privilege.“

Bill supporters, sponsors

Numerous groups support the legislation: Women’s Sports Foundation, Association of Title IX Administrators, Girls Incorporated, Equality California, Human Rights Campaign, National Women’s Law Center, Lambda Legal, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.

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The bill is co-sponsored by 17 members of the House of Representatives: Lou Correa, Jim Costa, TJ Cox, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Raúl Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, Joe Kennedy, Carolyn Maloney, Sean Maloney, Barbara Lee, Mike Levin, Zoe Lofgren, Jerry McNerney, Grace Napolitano, Donna Shalala, Juan Vargas, and John Yarmuth.

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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