Lesbian among 13 recipients of Citizens Medal

Janice Langbehn

Officials with the Obama administration announced today that Janice Langbehn, the Lacey, Wash., lesbian who was denied access to her dying wife by hospital officials in Miami, is one of 13 people who will receive the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal  during a ceremony Oct. 20 at the White House.

The Citizens Medal is the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, established in 1969 “to recognize American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens,” according to a White House press release.

Langbehn, her partner Lisa Pond and three of their four adopted children were on vacation in Feburary 2007, in Miami and waiting to get on a cruise ship when Pond suddenly became ill and had to be rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. Hospital staff refused to allow Langbehn and the children in to see Pond, even after Langbehn had a copy of the legal documents giving her power of attorney faxed to the hospital within an hour of Pond being admitted. Pond, who had suffered a brain aneurysm, died 18 hours later without her wife and children having a chance to be by her side.

The story made headlines around the country and in June 2008, after the hospital refused repeatedly to apologize to Langbehn and her children, Langbehn, with the assistance of Lambda Legal, filed a lawsuit against the hospital, and she continued her crusade to bring attention to the injustices, highlighted by her story, that many same-sex couples face and continued to advocate for LGBT marriage and civil rights.

Throughout 2008, 2009 and 2010, the Committee for Fair Visitation at Jackson Memorial Hospital negotiated changes with the hospital regarding same-sex visitation, and although the lawsuit was eventually dismissed, in April  2010, Jackson Memorial Hospital and the committee announced major changes to visitation policies regarding LGBT patients. At the same time, the  Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital Organizations published new guidelines addressing inclusion of LGBT patients and families in hospital visitation.

Two days after the changes were announced, President Obama called Langbehn from Air Force One to apologize for the way her family had been treated and informing her of the memorandum he had issued earlier that day instructing Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, to create a rule allowing hospital visitations for same-sex couples comparable to those of married and opposite sex couples.

—  admin

President Obama orders hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum Thursday directing the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a rule prohibiting hospitals from denying visitation to gay and lesbian partners. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the memorandum was inspired by the case of Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, in which Langbehn was kept from Pond’s bedside as she lay dying at a Miami hospital in 2007.

“There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital,” the memorandum begins. “In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.”

The memorandum goes on to say that gays and lesbians are “uniquely affected” because they’re “often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

In addition to drafting the rule prohibiting discrimination, the memorandum directs the department to make recommendations about what other steps it “can take to address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued this response:

“Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever. No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the President’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family.”

To read Obama’s full memorandum, go here.

—  John Wright