Laurel Hester, partner of Stacie Andree, and described as “New Jersey’s Rosa Parks”, passed away this morning at their home in Point Pleasant. Although I never met Laurel, I will remember her for her unselfish, relentless courage – from her 24-year career in the county prosecutor’s office through the most physically and emotionally painful last year of her life. Laurel always fought for justice and her bravery inspired countless others to join in that fight. Without a doubt, Laurel left the world a better and more just place than she found it.
“She meant the world to me. I’m glad what we went through is done with. It was the fight that kept her going. … She’s at peace now. There’s no more pain.”
“She really did make a gigantic impact on literally the world. She was a very, very private, guarded person. Something like this was the absolute last thing she wanted. It took a lot of absolute courage to do what she did.
She was perhaps best known for her dedication, integrity and dignity. She was really a pioneer among women in law enforcement and as such faced an uphill climb. She very quickly earned the respect of men in her profession.”
Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality:
“Make no mistake about this. Laurel Hester was the Rosa Parks of New Jersey gay and lesbian civil rights. She gave a face and a name to our struggle for equality, particularly in marriage equality.
It was as if the role was always destined for her even if she didn’t already know it. History sometimes taps on the shoulder heroes who never anticipated they would be heroes. Laurel Hester is one such person.â€
Like any person who knows they’re dying, Hester was interested in providing for the person she loved, her partner of many years, Stacie. How ordinary, how everyday, how remarkable.
Hester, who was gay, was blocked by her employers, the Ocean County Freeholder board, from making sure Stacie could receive Hester’s benefits. And the Freeholders resisted – because the law allowed them to.
It doesn’t surprise me that a woman in law enforcement would fight what she saw as an injustice, and she did that, gracefully. But as she faded and grew weaker, other people began to show up and fight first alongside her and then for her, and in her name. And the pressure was too much for five local Freeholders. They relented, they reversed. Stacie will inherit what Laurel fought for her to have. And towns and counties all over New Jersey are suddenly more open-minded about what defines family.
The woman who focused a movement in New Jersey has died. But before she did that, she triumphed.
Laurel Hester’s battle for justice was thoroughly inspiring. After such a long period of what at times has seemed like fruitless activism – her courage and determination – and success – were acts of love, not just for her partner Stacie, but for everyone fighting for justice in an unjust world.
May she be remembered long after her passing.
Michael Jenson at The Big Gay Picture:
I’ve little doubt Laurel lived as long as she did not only because she had something to fight for, but because she believed she was fighting for every one of us. Her passing is a terrible loss, but know that Laurel died content having finished her life the way she had always lived it–doing the right thing in the most honorable and ethical way possible.
New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition:
“The board and membership of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition join in sorrow with all of New Jerse’s LBGTI community as we honor the passing of Laurel Hester, the heroic woman whose dramatic battle for equal rights touched lives around the world.”
New Jersey should be sadder for her passing, but is a better place for her having lived.
All of us owe her a debt of gratitude for fighting (and winning) an important battle in the struggle for equality.
That she and her partner undertook this effort while battling cancer at the same time is a remarkable example of courage and tenacity under even the most trying circumstances.
I salute the Liuetenant and her partner, through tears of appreciation. Heroes in the true sense of the word.
We will honor and remember her with gratitude for her life lived in service; for her courage to the end in fighting for what’s right; and for her passing at her home in the presence of those she loved.
I grieve for Stacie, and for all of Laurel’s friends and wellwishers, those Lt. Hester knew and those she had never met, including me.
But I rejoice in the following thought: We would all feel much worse, had Stacie’s and Laurel’s and our fight been in vain.
It was NOT in vain. Hester, Andree, and all of us fought against bigotry and injustice, and we ALL won. Out of the tragedy of Lt. Laurel’s struggle and death, we have all won a victory for equal rights, and a promise of hope for the future, for every LGBT person in the world.
Every such victory enhances and advances our world and our species. Each victory is a light against the darkness of fear and prejudice. Any victory for justice means one less injustice in history.
For myself, every time I think about Laurel Hester’s cruel last year, I will remind myself that Stacie Andree gets to remain living in their own house. And I will smile through my tears.
The Star Ledger:
Her plea put a poignant face on the gay rights movement in New Jersey and around the nation. The freeholder board, which initially turned her down, ultimately acquiesced last month, and other counties began changing their rules as well.
Asbury Park Press
Press of Atlantic City
New York Post
The Star Ledger
Ocean County Observer