Gay icon Laurel Hester dies

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A gay rights icon who spent her last years campaigning to have her pension benefits extended to her partner has died of cancer.

Laurel Hester was a member of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. She died at the Point Pleasant home she shared with her partner, Stacie Andree. The couple had been together for six years and were registered as domestic partners in 2004.

Ms Hester, who had lung cancer, campaigned to have her Police and Firemen’s Retirement System benefits passed on to her partner because she feared that without her $13,000 death benefit, Ms Andree would be forced to sell their home.

New Jersey’s Domestic Partners Act, which was passed in 2004, gave state employees the right to name their domestic partners as beneficiaries, but it did not require local and county governments to do the same. Instead, it gave them the right to enact legislation extending the benefits, which several have done.

Ocean County initially refused to grant the benefits, saying it should be negotiated with the unions or that the Legislature should decide the issue.

But amid criticsm from gay groups, the county ultimately agreed to do so and gave their formal approval last month.

“You have just made yourselves an example of what democracy is all about,” Ms Hester told them that day, appearing before the panel in a wheelchair.

“And you’ve shown that you’re willing to listen and that together we can work things out.”

Steven Goldstein, chairman of gay group, Garden State Equality, said that neither Hester nor her efforts will be forgotten.

“Lieutenant Hester gave a face and a story to our struggle.”