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.

Two months later, Langbehn and her children were invited to the White House where they meet with Secretary Sebelius and attended a gay Pride celebration. They also got to meet in person with President Obama, who again apologized to the family for the way they had been treated. (Information from Wikipedia.)

Langbehn has continued her advocacy efforts, and it is in recognition of “her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally” that she has been chosen to receive the Citizens Medal, according to the White House statement released today.

The other 12 recipients are: Steve and Liz Alderman of Armonk, N.Y., who created the Peter C. Alderman Foundation — in honor of their son who was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 — which works to heal the emotional wounds of those who are victims of terrorist attacks and mass violence; Clarence Lee Alexander of Fort Yukon, Alaska, former grand chief of the Gwich’in people of Alaska, for his extensive work in cleaning up the Yukon River; Camilla Bloomquist of Penn Yan, N.Y., who founded Food for the Needy and Christmas for the Needy, in honor of her lifelong commitment to serving those in need; Judith Broder of Studio City, Calif., who created The Soldiers Project which works to meet the mental health needs of servicemembers, their families and returning veterans; the late Vijaya Emani of Strongsville, Ohio, killed in an automobile accident in 2009, who is recognized for becoming a role model for victims of domestic abuse as she overcome such abuse in her own life; Vietnam combat veteran John Keaveney of Los Angeles who founded the New Directions home for homeless and disabled veterans with addiction and mental health issues; Roger Kemp of Leakwood, Kan., who created The Ali Kemp Education (TAKE) Defense Foundation, after his daughter was murdered, to teach self defense tactics to women; Ida Martin of Bluffton, S.C., who created Bluffton Self Help to assist working families, disabled residents and senior citizens in financial crisis; Margaret Martin of Los Angeles who founded The Harmony Project to provide instruments and free group and indivdiual music lessons to children in gang reduction zones in the city; Michelle McIntyre-Brewer, a military spouse who founded Soldier’s List to support high-risk servicemembers and their spouses; and Roberto Perez of Miami, president of Alfalit, a non-profit organization combatting illiteracy around the world. Perez has also worked as a social worker and an ordained Methodist minister counseling prison inmates and recovering alcoholics.