Second Class Survivors

Gay and Lesbian Partners of 9-11 Victims Struggle to Receive Their Benefits

The Human Rights Campaign is lobbying the administration to include domestic partners. "The fact that the language of the relief bill is open is helpful," says Barney Frank, the House's senior gay member. But expecting Congress to pass gay-inclusive language is "wildly optimistic." His strategy: "I will focus on the attorney general."

Senator John McCain wept as he eulogized his former campaign volunteer Mark Bingham, the gay rugby player who went down with United flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and may have helped bring down the plane before it could hit Washington. "I may very well owe my life to Mark," McCain said. But he did not return calls about whether Bingham's partner would deserve any consideration as a spouse.

New York senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer support gay partnership rights, especially for September 11 survivors. Schumer wrote to Ashcroft urging compensation for domestic partners. "Preliminary vibes are not as bad as we'd think," the senator told the Voice. But Clinton is concerned about "political blowback" from "the more ideological House GOP leadership."

George Cuellar, who lost his partner of 20 years: Social security told him, "Don’t even think about it."
Photograph by Pak Fung Wong
George Cuellar, who lost his partner of 20 years: Social security told him, "Don’t even think about it."

There was one piece of good news last week: Gerald Ford became the highest-ranking Republican to endorse equal treatment for gay couples. "People are more receptive to the basic human story of gay and lesbian families after 9-11," says Evan Wolfson, a longtime advocate for equal marriage rights. But survivors like Cuellar are still far from being treated equally when they need it most.

The Following Agencies Offer Assistance to Gay and Lesbian Survivors Applying for Benefits:

  • New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project: 212-714-1141

  • Empire State Pride Agenda: 212-627-0305

  • Lambda Legal Defense: 212-809-8585

  • Human Rights Campaign: 202-628-4160

  • WTC Relief Info:
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