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[ C I N E M A ] BY BREANNE MCCARTHY
Pension Fight Inspires Film
LAUREL HESTER SELFLESSLY PROTECTED
the people of New Jersey for 24 years
as a detective lieutenant with the Ocean
County Prosecutor’s Office. In 2004,
while still on the force, she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Her
dying wish to pass on her pension benefits to her registered domestic partner,
Stacie Andree, was repeatedly denied by
the Ocean County Freeholders.
The heartrending story of Hester and
Andree and their fight for equal rights
is now a major motion picture, Freeheld,
starring Academy Award-winner Julianne Moore as Hester and Academy
Award-nominee Ellen Page as Andree.
It opens in limited release on October 2
and nationwide October 16.
benefits on November 9, 2005.
Hundreds of supporters showed up at
the next freeholders’ meeting in support
of Hester. Many were organized by gay-rights activist Steven Goldstein, founder
of Garden State Equality; actor Steve
Carell portrays Goldstein in Freeheld.
Amid the backlash, other Jersey counties
extended benefits to domestic partners.
Ocean County would not budge.
As support built, Hester made a last-ditch plea to Ocean County. On January
25, 2006, the freeholders finally reversed
their decision. Less than one month
later, Hester passed away. She was 49.
“This film is really about the impact
of two ordinary working people from
suburban New Jersey, so you see the
day-to-day impact when there isn’t
equality,” says Wade. “Laurel wasn’t
expecting to be an activist at all, but she
was always doing the right thing and
was always about equality and fairness. I
think she’d be really proud.” ;
left, and Ellen Page
portray New Jerseyans Laurel Hester
and Stacie Andree
(inset) in the film
“When I read the plight of Laurel
Hester...I was really surprised and kind of
shocked,” says producer Cynthia Wade.
“I realized instantly this was going to be
my next passion project.” Wade produced and directed an earlier documentary about the two women, also titled
Freeheld, which won an Academy Award
for best documentary short in 2008.
Hester waged her fight for her
pension rights while receiving chemotherapy treatments. At the time, local
governments were permitted—but not
required—to provide pension benefits for
same-sex couples through the Domestic
Partners Act of 2004. Local media coverage sparked national interest when the
freeholders officially denied the pension