HRC Applauds Justice Department Compensation To 9/11 Lesbian Survivor

On January 24th The Human Rights Campaign applauded the decision of
the Justice Department to grant compensation from a federal fund created
for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to Peggy Neff, who lost her partner,
Sheila Hein, in the attack on the Pentagon. Unlike victims in New York,
who were eligible for state-level survivor benefits, neither Virginia
nor federal law made any provision for non-married partners.

"This is the first time that we are aware of that the federal government
has specifically recognized that someone in a gay relationship should
receive compensation for the loss of a partner," said HRC Communications
Director and Senior Strategist David M. Smith. "This is a testament to
fair-mindedness prevailing over intolerance. This is also thanks in no
small part to the tireless efforts of Lambda Legal as they worked for
months with Peg to make this happen."

Neff and Hein had been partnered for more than 18 years and owned a home
together in Maryland. Both women wore gold bands to signify their
commitment to each other, and Hein was still wearing the ring Neff had
given her when rescue workers found her remains in the rubble at the
Pentagon.

When Neff applied for assistance after the attacks from the state of
Virginia Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, she received a letter
rejecting her claim and expressing condolences for the loss of her
"friend."

"Without laws recognizing gay families, they are extremely vulnerable to
these types of tragedies. To receive emergency benefits in the
immediate aftermath of the attacks, Peg had to surmount obstacles, and,
in at least one case, rejection from the state of Virginia, which other
families never had to consider," said Smith. "While Peggy Neff's case
is not precedent-setting, it is our sincere hope that this is a sign
that other gay families who have suffered the loss of a loved one will
be treated similarly."

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, new light was shed on the
gross inequity that exists in America's family laws, as gay families –
who are not allowed to marry – were ineligible for survivor benefits and
protections that most Americans take for granted. A 1996 study by the
federal General Accounting Office found that there are more than 1,000
rights and obligations associated with marriage or spousal status under
the U.S. code that gay and lesbian couples and families are denied
because no U.S. state allows them to marry.

"HRC is committed to addressing inequities that impact GLBT families,
including federal tax laws, hospital visitation rights, taxation of
domestic partner coverage, Social Security benefits, immigration rights,
and employee benefits such as COBRA, 401(k) and pension plans. We are
working with lawmakers at every level to build a more perfect equality
where GLBT families no longer slip through the cracks in the American
legal system," said HRC Political Director Winnie Stachelberg.
HRC provided assistance to Neff in securing emergency aid from the
American Red Cross and other agencies.

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