|Born||Laurel Anne Hester
August 15, 1956
Elgin, Illinois U.S.
|Died||February 18, 2006
Point Pleasant, New Jersey, U.S.
|Occupation||police officer, activist|
Laurel Anne Hester (August 15, 1956 – February 18, 2006) was a New Jersey State Police Lieutenant, who rose to national attention with her deathbed appeal for the extension of pension benefits to her domestic partner. Her battle was shown in Freeheld (2007), the winner of the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary, and the feature film of the same name (2015), in which Hester was portrayed by Julianne Moore.
Life and career
She was born in Elgin, Illinois, and grew up in Florham Park, the daughter of Diana (1922–1995) and George Hester (1919–1992). She has two brothers, George II and James, and a sister, real-estate agent Lynda (Hester) D'Orio. Her brother James Hester is a Harvard graduate and currently serves as a pro bono mayoral appointee for the city of Laurel, Maryland as the Chair of the Ethics Commission.
She earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and psychology from Stockton State College. While in school she helped to start the first LGBT group, which caused controversy on campus. She served as president, but used a pseudonym so no one outside of the group would know she was gay. Her name eventually was attached to an LGBT news article, and she was outed to the school as a lesbian. Her first position in law enforcement was in North Wildwood, New Jersey. After two summers working as a seasonal officer, she was told she would not be hired for a third because she was gay. As a child her family often summered at the Jersey Shore, hence why Hester wanted to return and work in the area.
Laurel Hester was a 23-year veteran of the Ocean County prosecutor's office, where she worked on a variety of cases, when she was struck down by rapidly spreading lung cancer. She was one of the first women to achieve rank of Lieutenant in her department and was greatly respected by her fellow officers.
She met her future girlfriend in the early 2000s, Stace Leigh Andree (born 1975) who was 19 years younger than Hester.
The cancer metastasized and spread to her brain, and it became clear that she had little time to live. Hester lived with and jointly owned a house with her registered domestic partner, Stacie Andree, who would not be able to afford mortgage payments upon Hester'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.
Hester 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 between 100 and 200 supporters 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.
Hester's battle for pension benefits was shown in Freeheld (2007), the winner of the Academy Award for Best Short Documentary, and the feature film Freeheld (2015), in which Hester was portrayed by Julianne Moore.
The LEAGUE Foundation, which provides financial resources for American LGBT high school seniors entering their first year of institutions of higher learning, has awarded the Laurel Hester Memorial Scholarship annually since 2006.
The Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) of New York awards the Laurel Hester Award.
- Laurel Hester obituary accessed March 22, 2015
- Stacie Andree public record Retrieved July 22, 2015
- Wilson, Michael. "Lieutenant Who Won Pension Rights for Her Domestic Partner Dies at 49", The New York Times, February 20, 2006. Accessed December 18, 2007. "Lieutenant Hester died in the house in Point Pleasant that she owned with her partner, Stacie Andree."
- "Laurel Hester Memorial Scholarship – LEAGUE Foundation LGBT Scholarship". Leaguefoundation.org. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- "LEAGUE Foundation Awards – LEAGUE Foundation LGBT Scholarship". Leaguefoundation.org. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- "Welcome Students and Supporters! – LEAGUE Foundation LGBT Scholarship". Leaguefoundation.org. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- "Awards". Ediewindsor.com. Retrieved July 9, 2015.
- Laurel Hester at the Internet Movie Database
- Video message from Hester to freeholders.
- Video Laurel Hester talks about Freeheld.