Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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PHOTOS: Sally Ride, Bayard Rustin Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Two gay trailblazers were among the 16 recipients of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded Wednesday at the White House. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the highest civilian honor bestowed by the White House, after President John F. Kennedy established the Presidential Medal of Freedom by executive order in 1963. The award is intended to honor those who have made "especially meritous contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to NBC

Both Sally Ride and Bayard Rustin were granted the awards posthumously, with each person's surviving partner accepting the award on their behalf. Other recipients included former president Bill Clinton, entertainment magnate Oprah Winfrey, country music star Loretta Lynn, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and former Indiana senator Dick Lugar. 

Astronaut and astrophysicist Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was awarded the medal not only for her work with NASA but also for encouraging countless people — especially women and girls — to engage in the sciences. After Ride's death from pancreatic cancer in 2012, the world learned that she had spent the last 27 years of her life in a loving partnership with Tam O'Shaughnessy, with whom she also collaborated on books and her company, Sally Ride Science. Discover 10 more things you need to know about Sally Ride here, and see photos of the ceremony, including O'Shaughnessy accepting the medal, below. 

Bayard Rustin was a chief organizer for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and a key adviser to the late Martin Luther King Jr. Although Rustin died in 1987 from a ruptured appendix, his legacy lives on through his surviving partner, Walter Naegle. Learn more about Rustin's incredible life and legacy here, and see photos from the award ceremony at the White House below.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive for the Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation ceremony in the East Room of the White House Wednesday.


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