Friday, January 9, 2009

For Her Wife

I caught a fascinating segment on the radio as I was driving home last night.

Two years ago, Seattle was hit by terrible December storms—wind and rain followed by a week of frigid cold and ice. For some local residents (including my parents), power was out for over a week. One of the most jarring stories to come out of that whole situation was the death Kate Fleming. The incident was so sudden, so unfair, so unpredictable that it shook to the core people's faith in the comfort of every day.

Fleming was a voice-over actress who lived in Seattle's Madison Valley. When flash flooding hit her home, threatening recording equipment she kept in her basement, Fleming went into the basement to rescue the equipment before she evacuated. Fleming became trapped in the basement and trapped in rising water. 911 had difficulty locating her correct address. As a result, rescue workers could not help her in time. By the time Fleming's partner, Charlene Strong, and neighbors could attempt a rescue, it was too late.

Charlene Strong is now using this situation as a catalyst to activism. While in the hospital with Fleming, as doctors made last efforts to try to revive her, and while funeral planning, Strong realized she had no rights because she was a gay partner. Strong is fighting for equal rights for gays and lesbians so that other partners will not be put in the same situation she was—faced with losing a loved one and then having to fight to get their voice heard.

Strong had to call Fleming's sister in Virginia to be allowed into her hospital room. Fleming's mother was the one who was allowed to sign paperwork at the funeral home, even though Strong paid for the services.

A new documentary depicts Charlene Strong's activism. I remember vividly how upset I was when I read about Fleming's death over two years ago. I can't tell you how hopeful I am to read about something so positive coming out of such a terrible situation. This woman is an inspiration.

(Last year, our state passed a domestic partner bill, and this clip from the documentary seems to infer that Strong was intimately involved with the passage. I do know for a fact that she testified in the State House. That's all I have been able to verify.)

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