Federal Government Awards Survivor Benefits to Lesbian Whose Partner Was Killed in 9/11 Attack; Lambda Legal Says Recognition Is First of Its Kind

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January 23, 2003

(New York, Thursday, January 23, 2003) - In what Lambda Legal today called “a huge step forward for the federal government,” a lesbian was awarded more than $500,000 from the federal fund that was designed to compensate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Lambda Legal represented Peggy Neff, whose partner of 18 years died in the attack on the Pentagon, in her year-and-a-half-long struggle to win the same support and treatment as people whose spouses died on Sept. 11.

“The government recognized Peg’s loving relationship with Sheila as being similar to that of a spouse and compensated her accordingly,” said Jennifer Middleton, the Lambda Legal staff attorney who handled Neff’s claim and has worked with nearly two dozen lesbians and gay men whose partners were killed on Sept. 11. “This is the first time the federal government has recognized a same-sex relationship this way,”

Neff, who called Sheila Hein “ my entire world and my soul mate, my closest confidante and my best friend,” applied for assistance from the federal fund after being rejected by a state fund in Virginia, where the Pentagon is located. The federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund is reviewing claims from hundreds of people who lost spouses or family members in the attacks and, based on several factors including lost financial support, has already awarded compensation to dozens of them.

“The fund was set up as a safety net for people who lost family members. That protection should be there for every victim - regardless of whether they were straight or gay,” Middleton said. “We’re enormously pleased that Peg’s claim is resolved and she can move beyond fighting to have her relationship recognized. We’re committed to continuing to fight for other people whose partners were killed on Sept. 11, or any other day.”

Since Sept, 11, 2001, Lambda Legal has been working to ensure that lesbians and gay men who lost their partners are treated fairly. In the days after the attacks, Lambda Legal helped persuade emergency relief workers to recognize same-sex partners. Lambda’s legal efforts and the public attention those efforts garnered helped spark legislation in New York last year granting some spousal benefits to lesbians and gay men whose partners died on Sept. 11. In several pending cases, Lambda Legal is continuing to seek state and federal compensation that recognizes same-sex surviving partners and treats them fairly.

Contact: Eric Ferrero, 212/809-8585 ext. 227; 888/987-1984 (pager)



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