How would you feel if you were denied the right to sit by a loved one on his or her deathbed or attend to a loved one’s funeral arrangements? For Charlene Strong, this question was the catalyst for her life’s work.
Charlene's life changed forever in 2006 when a flash flood ripped through Seattle, trapping her partner, Kate Fleming, in the basement of their home. After emergency personnel rushed Kate to the hospital, Charlene was initially prevented from being at her bedside as Kate lay dying. The state of Washington did not recognize domestic partnerships and therefore, legally, Charlene was not recognized as next of kin. By the time Charlene was allowed in the room, after the hospital reached Kate’s parents to get permission, Kate was unconscious and died moments later. And after Kate passed away, Charlene suffered further discrimination when the funeral director told her she didn’t have any rights to make any final arrangements for the woman with whom she had shared ten years of her life.
The experience galvanized Charlene into taking action. In January of 2007, she testified before the Washington State Legislature in support of a bill creating a statewide Domestic Partnership Registry. It was because of Charlene’s courage to stand up and speak out about her experience that a bill that was eventually signed into law, making Washington one of the first states in the nation to recognize domestic partnerships. Charlene had found her voice; she began traveling the country as a tireless advocate for equal legal protections for LGBT families. Charlene’s journey as an activist was chronicled in the award-winning documentary, for my wife…
Charlene has also established an internship in honor of Kate with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and in January 2009, Charlene was appointed by Governor Chris Gregoire as a Commissioner for the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Charlene continues to travel the country with her message, opening hearts and minds about the collateral damage of inequality in our communities and country.
If you would like to learn more about Charlene and her work, please visit www.charlenestrong.com