After being denied access to her partner of nine years as she lay on her deathbed, Charlene Strong turned her full attention toward advocating for LGBTQ equality. Strong, the co-producer of the film about her story, titled For My Wife, spoke on campus Sunday following a screening of her film.
Strong’s partner, Kate Fleming, died in Seattle in 2006 after being trapped in her basement following a flash flood. Strong said that by the time she was allowed in the hospital room to see Fleming, she had a mere 30 seconds to say goodbye. “It was a horror story,” she said.
Because Washington State did not recognize domestic partnerships at the time, Strong needed permission from Fleming’s next of kin to be admitted. “I asked if I could go in the ambulance and they said no,” Strong said. “Then, I was not let into the ER. I thought, ‘this is the second time I’ve been told I’m no one, despite my nine-year-long relationship with Kate.”
“I realized I had no rights, and I was scared,” Strong continued. “My dignity was stripped from me that night. We were each other’s wives. We spent nearly 10 years of our lives together.”
Strong is now widely recognized in America as a gay rights advocate who works toward marriage equality and legal protections for gay and lesbian couples. “I want to have legal rights recognized by the state,” she said. “For some reason, the majority is allowed to vote on the minority’s rights. It’s not about sexuality. It has everything to do with dignity and grace.”
After losing her wife, Strong supported a bill before the Washington State Senate that created a statewide registry of domestic partnerships. Her work was celebrated at the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards and she currently sits on the Washington State Human Rights Commission. “I truly feel blessed,” she said. “It’s about what I can do to transform people’s misconceptions.”
Strong ended her speech on a positive note, saying she is happily remarried and became a parent 11 weeks ago. However, “we have a long way to go,” she said. “I had to adopt my baby girl. Heterosexual couples with fertility issues don’t have to do the same.”
The discrimination Strong faced prompted her to think, “How can I positively affect compassion, dignity, and grace in your life? Imagine if we all thought this way,” she said.
To her opponents who speak out against the “homosexual agenda,” Strong said, “You can’t fix me. I’m not broken.”