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Here’s the skinny on Laurel Hester. She was a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County prosecutor’s office, where she worked on a variety of cases, when she was discovered she had stage 4 lung cancer (Stage four (IV) means the lung cancer has spread to more than one area in the other lung, the fluid surrounding the lung or the heart, or distant parts of the body through the bloodstream. Once released in the blood, cancer can spread anywhere in the body, but it is more likely to spread to the brain, bones, liver, and adrenal glands.). She was one of the first women to achieve rank of Lieutenant in her department and was greatly respected by her fellow officers.

While in Ocean County, where she earned the rank of lieutenant, she
worked behind the scenes on a number of high-profile cases, devoting
most of her career to organized-crime intelligence. She helped develop
information that investigators in New York would later use for
successful prosecutions of mob figures there.

She met her girlfriend in the early 2000s, Stacie Leigh Andree (born 1975) who was 19 years younger than Hester and worked as a car mechanic.

The cancer then metastasized and spread to her brain, leaving her with little time to live. Laurel lived with and jointly owned a house with her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, who would not be able to afford mortgage payments upon Laurel’s death. A married heterosexual with Hester’s years of police service would be able to pass on pension benefits to a spouse, but this privilege was not accorded to same-sex domestic partners in Ocean County, NJ.

Hester and Garden State Equality Founder and Chair Emeritus, Steven Goldstein appealed to local authorities to change this policy, and was supported by the local Policemen’s Benefit Association. Instead, in a private meeting on November 9, 2005, the five Republican county freeholders voted against the proposal, with freeholder John P. Kelly arguing that it threatened “the sanctity of marriage.” On November 23, a rally of supporters rallied by Steven Goldstein gathered to protest the county’s inaction.

On January 18, 2006, an impassioned videotaped appeal by a weakening Hester from her hospital bed was shown at a meeting of the freeholders, who then met with county Republican leaders in a teleconference on January 20. The next day, the freeholders announced that they were reversing their stance, and would meet on January 25 to extend pension benefits to registered domestic partners.

She died exactly a month later after sending the committee the video plea on February 18, 2006, in her home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

There is a new movie about Hester’s fight for equality coming out October 2nd starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, also titled Freeheld.

Love is love.

– Mushpa

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