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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 21, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 42
Lesbian activist Janice Langbehn honored by White House
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Lesbian activist Janice Langbehn honored by White House

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lesbian activist Janice Langbehn was honored by the White House with the Presidential Citizens Medal on Oct. 20.

Langbehn, who lives in Lacey, modestly calls herself an 'accidental activist.'

In 2007, Langbehn, her partner of 18 years Lisa Pond, and their three children were about to depart from Miami on a family cruise when Pond suddenly collapsed.

Pond was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where she slipped into a coma and subsequently died.

Hospital staff refused to allow Langbehn access to her partner and would not give her information about Pond's medical status. Despite the fact that Langbehn had friends in Lacey fax their domestic partnership registration to the hospital, she and the children were kept away from Pond for eight hours until a priest arrived to give her last rites.

In June 2008, Lambda Legal filed suit against the hospital on behalf of Langbehn and the children.

A federal district court rejected Lambda Legal's lawsuit, ruling that Florida law did not require hospital visitation for same-sex partners.

Langbehn continued to work with Lambda Legal and other LGBT organizations to change hospital visitation policies and keep her story alive.

In part because he was acquainted with Langbehn's story, President Obama issued a presidential memo on April 15, 2010, directing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to draft new regulations on hospital visitation and other health-care issues affecting LGBT families.

The same day, Obama called Langbehn from Air Force One to apologize for the treatment her family received and to brief her on his instructions to HHS.

The new regulations for hospitals receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funds went into effect this past January.

On June 22, 2010, Langbehn and her three children met with Secretary Sebelius and attended a White House reception for LGBT activists. Before the reception, Obama met personally with Langbehn and the children and again offered his apology.

When the Citizens Medal award was announced, Langbehn reacted with characteristic modesty.

'It's really hard to put into words. While I am being recognized for standing up for what I believe in, and for the harm done to my partner and our children, I would trade this medal and any accolades to have Lisa with me still,' she said.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell met with Langbehn the day before the White House medal ceremony.

'I was pleased to meet with Janice Langbehn today and congratulate her for receiving the second-highest civilian honor this nation has to offer,' Cantwell said.

'This is a tremendous accomplishment and one that Janice truly deserves for her work advancing equal rights for all. Janice took a tragic injustice she suffered and transformed it into something for the greater good. For years she fought to right a wrong that had been done to her, her partner, and to countless other same-sex couples across this nation.'

Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart also congratulated Langbehn.

'We're proud that Janice will receive the Presidential Citizens Medal from the White House in recognition of her tireless advocacy beginning in a Florida hospital more than three years ago,' Cathcart said.

'Because Janice boldly told her story, President Obama heard about her and issued the directive last year that led to the new federal rules that will protect same-sex couples and their families across the country.'

Langbehn was one of 13 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal this year.

The award was established in 1969 to recognize American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens

'This year's recipients of the Citizens Medal come from different backgrounds, but they share a commitment to a cause greater than themselves,' said Obama. 'They exemplify the best of what it means to be an American, and I am honored to be able to offer them a small token of our appreciation.'

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