Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter is being recognized by the White House this week with an honor named after a gay-rights icon.
Painter is one of 10 elected or appointed officials who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered who have been named “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”
Painter, county recorder since 1998 and a Democrat, was the first openly gay person to win election to public office in Iowa.
“Harvey Milk is very evocative and important to anyone who’s grown up and become a public servant as an openly gay individual,” Painter said Monday.
Milk was a gay-rights activist who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by a former supervisor in 1978.
May 22 was Milk’s birthday, and Painter and the other honorees are being recognized at an event in Washington, D.C., that day. Painter had a previous commitment and cannot attend.
She learned of the award a little more than a week ago when she was contacted by a White House LGBT liaison.
“It came out of the blue, and I was startled and very happy,” she said. “It’s a very nice honor.”
Painter’s office issues marriage licenses in Johnson County. As a lesbian, that job has affected her personally.
In 2004, she denied the marriage-license applications of dozens of same-sex couples, some of whom she knew, despite her personal belief that the Iowa law banning gay marriage was unconstitutional.
“I had to do the hard job of saying no to those people,” Painter said.
Then she got to do the reverse after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that same-sex couples could wed.
Painter and Jessica Kardon married in 2009 and have now been together 17 years.
The Harvey Milk award is part of the Champions of Change program, which was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature groups of Americans who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities, according to a news release.
To watch Wednesday’s event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at 2 p.m. Iowa time.