Laurel Hester Loses Battle with Cancer, But Wins Much More

laurel hester

Laurel Hester, the 49-year-old cancer-stricken police officer who fought to leave her pension benefits to her partner lost her battle to cancer this weekend. As a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office, Hester inadvertently became a gay marriage activist after battling over a year with numerous failed attempts to extend her pension benefits to her partner of six years. Hester feared that her partner would lose the home they shared without her 13,000 death benefit.

Two years ago, New Jersey passed a Domestic Partnership act giving counties and cities the right to extend healthcare benefits and pension benefits to partners of gay employees. Of course there is a caveat involved when it comes to our rights; these benefits can be given at the discretion of the individual cities and counties, and the Ocean Country Prosecutor’s office, Hester’s former employer, repeatedly thwarted her plea.

Despite her failing health, Hester didn’t just throw in the towel. She continued to show up at their meetings, demanding the simple designation that her partner receive her benefits in the event of her death. There were protests. Garden State Equality, a New Jersey gay and lesbian rights group got involved to raise public awareness and solidify her case. Nothing seemed to change their minds.

Bed-stricken and unable to attend further meetings, Hester had Garden State Equality videotape her final plea where she urged the freeholders to “make a change for good, a change for righteousness.” Finally, after a long battle, they relented agreeing to give Hester’s partner the benefits she’d earned.

Not to sound preachy, but Hester’s refusal to relent is a huge act of courage and perseverance that should resonate with us all. We’re going to act all kinds of crazy if Hester isn’t on the cover of The Advocate by the end of year.

Cancer-stricken gay rights activist dies at 49 [Newsday]