The Night the Oscar went to South Jersey


So it’s Oscar night tonight.

Hollywood will be properly and predictably tweezed, tucked, plucked, corseted and bauble’d. It’s almost like election day for pretty people. And the eyes of the world will be watching.

I haven’t watched the Oscars in a few years, at least since 2008 when Freeheld, the Laurel Hester Story was nominated.

The night before the 2008 show, Freeheld’s director Cynthia Wade was the guest on BlueJersey BlogTalkRadio.

Needless to say, when Freeheld won the top prize, the BlueJersey community was sent into a collective delirium, a feeling that’d last for much of 2008 as the progressive community piled up victories in Trenton, Washington and (at least once) in Hollywood.

Heady times, indeed. And on this date, it’s worth remembering, A)because Laurel Hester deserves to be remembered and B) it’s okay to contemplate battles past. Even the ones we won.

The acceptance speech is after the flip, but check out the Movie trailer, below. And let’s make this an Oscar-themed openthread, shall we?

Laurel Hester’s movie makes BlueJersey’s top 10 list

Comment (1)

  1. Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality chair

    The Laurel Hester saga changed LGBT activism in New Jersey forever.  It put Garden State Equality, which was just a year old, on the map.  

    One fall morning in 2005, at 7:30 am, I got a call from GSE Vice Chair Karen Nicholson-McFadden.  Her voice was urgent.  “Steven, did I wake you?  Where are you?  Are you sitting?  I have to read to you an outrageous story.  We have to do something to help a dying woman, and we have to act big, because this shows why we’re fighting for marriage equality.”

    I was in Philadelphia that morning, about to start my first class of the day at rabbinical school, which I was juggling with leading GSE.  That morning, the then-Ocean County Observer published the tiniest of blurbs, buried in the middle of the paper at the bottom of the page, about the Ocean County Freeholders’ decision to deny a dying police officer named Laurel Hester the right to give her death benefits to her partner.

    Karen was right.  This was huge, this could make headlines in New Jersey and across the world, but no one really knew the story yet.  My heart raced fast and my adrenaline was about to explode. I rushed back up north, tracked down Laurel and Stacie within an hour, and then called Star-Ledger reporter Debbie Howlett. Debbie did a huge one-page story that created the firestorm and we pre-planned our first rally to coincide with the story.  

    A few Garden State Equality rallies later, a filmmaker started following Garden State Equality.  Frankly, I didn’t take her seriously at first.  She was an unknown, aspiring filmmaker – yeah, right, so are half my friends in New York and Los Angeles.  But very quickly I saw that Cynthia Wade was a brilliant talent and remarkable human being.

    When Cynthia sat me down to show me the final product of Freeheld before it went public, she explained how the documentary was a bit different from the saga that happened.  She almost sheepishly described the compromises that had to be made for a 38-minute film.  I didn’t say anything – I would wait to comment until after the film itself.  

    I loved it right away.  However, among the differences between the film and the reality – and there were a few – one did bother me, and I told Cynthia about it right away. The film ended with a graphic saying that shortly after Laurel’s death, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had to have all the rights and benefits of marriage.  

    Cynthia, a true progressive, understood and agreed with my complaint – that the film ended with an implication that civil unions were as good as marriage.  But she wanted to have an uplifting coda.  

    Cynthia corrected for this in her acceptance speech at the 2008 Academy Awards, stressing the need for real marriage equality.

    Of course, we would all live through the problems with civil unions that exist until this day, which will lead to the next chapter of Garden State Equality’s fight for marriage equality, coming soon.  There are Laurel Hester situations all over New Jersey, even in 2011.

    That said, we cherish our memories of Laurel Hester, of the making of Freeheld, of the involvement of the wonderful Cynthia Wade, and of Blue Jersey’s leadership with us in the trenches that led Garden State Equality to award Blue Jersey our 2008 Laurel Hester Prize for Citizen Courage.

    We thank you, Blue Jersey.  History will be continued.


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