Alumna Receives Presidential Citizens Medal

In February 2007, Janice Langbehn MPA’95, her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, and their three children traveled to Miami for a cruise. Instead, Langbehn and the children found themselves trapped in a Miami hospital emergency room, trying desperately to gain access to Pond, who had suffered a brain aneurysm while on the ship. Although they had a signed power of attorney, the family was kept from Pond, who would later die alone.

Janice Langbehn receives Presidential Citizens MedalAfter her harrowing experience in Miami, Langbehn wanted to ensure no other family would have to go through what she and her family did. With the help of Lambda Legal and GLAAD, she filed a federal lawsuit and worked to get her story out to the nation. President Obama personally apologized to her for the way she and her family were treated, and went on to issue new rules requiring hospitals to extend visitation rights for gay and lesbian partners, which went into effect in January 2011 for any hospital receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funds.

In October 2011, Langbehn, who lives with their children in Lacey, was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, in a ceremony at the White House, where President Barack Obama personally thanked her for “answering the call of service.”

“This year’s recipients of the Citizens Medal come from different backgrounds, but they share a commitment to a cause greater than themselves,” said President 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.”

Langbehn was one of 13 recipients chosen from more than 6,000 public nominations for the medal, receiving it “for her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally.”

Photo credit: President Barack Obama presents Janice Langbehn, of Lacey, Washington, the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011, recognizing her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally. (Astrid Riecken/MCT)