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Flying solo: 92-year-old transgender widow fights for survivor benefits

Thursday, January 30, 2014

NEW YORK — Robina Asti, a 92-year-old transgender woman denied survivor benefits by the Social Security Administration after her husband’s death is asking the agency to reverse the decision.

The SSA denied Asti benefits after it determined that she was “legally male” at the time of their marriage, despite all the legal documents to the contrary, according to Lamba Legal, the LGBT legal advocacy group representing Asti.

Robina Asti

Robina Asti

Asti, a World War II veteran and pilot, married longtime sweetheart, Norwood Patton in a 2004 ceremony in an airplane hangar in Orange County, N.Y. In June 2012, Patton died at the age of 97.

Asti applied for survivor benefits through the SSA; although she already receives Social Security benefits, being able to claim survivor benefits would increase her monthly check by about $500.

Last April, the SSA notified Asti that her survivor benefits were denied because “her marriage does not meet the requirements under Federal law for payment of Social Security widow’s benefits,” stating that her marriage was not valid because she was “legally male” at the time of their wedding.

In June 2013, Lambda Legal filed a request for reconsideration on Asti’s behalf, but after more than six months, there has been no response from the Social Security Administration, according to Lambda.

“Robina’s husband passed away over a year-and-a-half ago, and at 92 years old, she should not have to wait another day for the benefits to which she is entitled,” said Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda’s Transgender Rights Project.

“The government has recognized Robina as a woman for over thirty years, including on her passport, FAA pilot’s license and her driver’s license,” said Levasseur. “For the federal government to deny her survivor benefits now is inexplicable. This remarkable woman should not have had the grief of losing the love of her life compounded by the insult of having her gender and marriage disrespected.”

“I am so insulted that the Social Security Administration refused to recognize me as a woman and treated my marriage to Norwood in such a disrespectful way,” said Asti, in a news release. “I have lived a very private life, but the SSA is forcing me to speak out. I don’t want other people to have to experience this.”

More on Asti’s story from Lambda Legal:

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125 more reader comments:

  1. This is so very wrong!!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:13pm
  2. Woooow

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:14pm
  3. So sad.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:16pm
  4. Happy birthday

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:16pm
  5. This is so sad.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:16pm
  6. Horribly wrong!!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:17pm
  7. Wow we can start a fund for her

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:18pm
  8. Cheap fuckers…spins it the way they want to when it is beneficial to them

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:18pm
  9. Such a sad story but I hope she receives her late husband’s benefits.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:20pm
  10. Poor Robina! She served our country, and now that she’s old they’re showing her how little she matters overall. :(

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:20pm
  11. I hope she wins. I am fighting for my son’s rights to my Social Security benefits. I legally adopted him but SS doesn’t want to pay because I am legally in Iowa in a same sex marriage

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:20pm
  12. Very wrong but I hope the decision is changed for her. Wow, 92 years old. That is awesome.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:20pm
  13. Good luck Robina! You are an inspiration!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:22pm
  14. This hurts my heart! :(

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:23pm
  15. Courtney Gray

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:23pm
  16. this is wrong

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:24pm
  17. Even if she was “legally male” why should that matter?! Even if she was male she should still get those benefits! ffs!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:25pm
  18. Terrible

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:25pm
  19. This is just not right. Bless you, Robina for fighting the good fight!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:27pm
  20. Ya, most Repubs in the house don’t have some agenda to kill everyone off but their “rich oh so perfectly designed selves.” Right. This is so wrong and the people taking away this persons benefits to live after all they’ve done should be persecuted for taking away from people who actually deserve it. Yet another sickening move on the self-righteous Nazis.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:27pm
  21. Wow sad

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:30pm
  22. that’s so sad :(

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:31pm
  23. Some people have no heart!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:33pm
  24. Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:33pm
  25. Pay her the fucking benefits you assholes!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:34pm
  26. “You’re only a woman so long as we don’t have to pay out for that fact.” 9_9

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:34pm
  27. Wrong on so many levels. I hope the SSA makes this right.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:35pm
  28. So sad!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:37pm
  29. plenty of straight ones having to fight for the same it’s all wrong fight for all of them and come out on top!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:38pm
  30. She is straight, Emily.

    Replied on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:53pm
  31. sorry I should have written non transgendered

    Replied on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:54pm
  32. Veterans are going through so much and though there are some great charities out there for the younger veterans they won't help Viet Nam era or older vets and their families and it's very hurtful

    Replied on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:55pm
  33. Thank you John for helping me to correct myself

    Replied on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:55pm
  34. Breaks my heart to know this. Breaks my heart for us all. We need to continue to fight and don’t stop!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:38pm
  35. Soooo wrong!!!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:39pm
  36. What a shame for this lovely lady.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:39pm
  37. Why does this world have to be full of ass’es anatomies?

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:44pm
  38. :(

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:53pm
  39. This is just sad. Bureaucracy run a muck. It’s not like they have to worry about “setting a precedent.” How often can this possibly come up?

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:55pm
  40. Just wrong

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 8:56pm
  41. Go,my sister!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:02pm
  42. sure as hell wasn’t “gay” money when she was paying them.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:02pm
  43. sad.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:06pm
  44. God bless you

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:22pm
  45. Outrageous! They should of course pay to what she is entitled.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:33pm
  46. Terrible.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:36pm
  47. The story of flying was like a beacon of sunligjt! Truly an angel with courage and strength. A love story and a sad story and a tragedy. SSA should be ashamed of themselves!!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:37pm
  48. How sad <3

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:38pm
  49. <3

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:39pm
  50. sending love and strength your way, God Bless you are who you are no matter what the US Govt says

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 9:50pm
  51. How wrong!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:02pm
  52. pathetic!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:17pm
  53. Unbelievable. Give this lady and WWII veteran her extra $500! 92 years old–how much longer will she even have on this earth?

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:17pm
  54. Awful

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:29pm
  55. Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:32pm
  56. How sad and …downright mean!!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:39pm
  57. Whoa, dude

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:56pm
  58. I do not support the disrespect of veterans and their spouses. Fucking sad that they would do this.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:01pm
  59. Thank you for your service! Today I fight for you, me and others!!! May America learn from your experience!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:10pm
  60. Welcome to our government, of course it is wrong think at the time we are in. We have children who are born as the wrong gender from time to time if you can’t afford the surgeries you are suck to that gender, so will this happen to future children as well? When they get married as one gender and switch to the next will not be given survivor benefits if there loved one dies for there country or has served their country and dies leaving there widow to fend alone. Just like race gender is only skin deep, yes there are different hormones but it shouldn’t matter to anyone but that person what there gender is, it’s not harming anyone whats so ever. Stories like this make me sick, I’m proud of this woman she has lived a full life as the gender she was meant to be, with the man that she loved, and should have the right like any straight couple/ union in the states. The government should not give a rats ass if the only thing wrong was she was a different gender at the time of her marriage. I apologize for my rant, it’s one of my pet peeves.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:11pm
  61. Something needs to be done for military persons effected by don’t ask don’t tell! And we can start right here with her story.

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:12pm
  62. Sad story. What a great lady!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:21pm
  63. Disgusting xxx

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:24pm
  64. SSA, pay this woman in retro. Shame on you for overlooking her!

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:30pm
  65. Seriously? >.> She’s very old and very tired of bullshit… give her the benefits she deserves…. pricks at the SSA…..

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:45pm
  66. sad, This belongs to her !!!!! I pray for equal rights

    Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 11:51pm
  67. Give her the money!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:02am
  68. THIS IS SO WRONG IN EVERY WAY

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:05am
  69. Outrageous! No compassion here!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:19am
  70. What sort of cruel World allows this ?? The authorities should be ashamed of themselves !! Good Luck Robina, I hope you win & they loose !!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:30am
  71. People suck

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:31am
  72. This is how our government loves our veterans and elderly. By disrespecting them in the most insulting ways possible. These assholes should be fired as an example to the next assholes in charge of reviewing cases.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:50am
  73. To transition when she did during that time. she is a true fighter. This is so sad. :(

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:57am
  74. WTF?!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:01am
  75. Feds should recognize her benefits.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:03am
  76. this is one of the reasons I am so vocal about rights. Every person should have the same rights that I would have if my husband died. People are people. We are all born, we love, we hate, we live, we die. The way we are born should make no difference to anyone else. It’s insane to me that any decent human could deny this woman her human rights.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:12am
  77. This just sucks!!! Even in the midst of gender equality and same sex marriage being legalized across the country, there are still large gaps in legislation that clearly need to be fixed

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:22am
  78. shit!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:33am
  79. This is ludicrous!!! How dare they deny a WWII Veteran their entitlement! Seriously no respect! Thank you Robina for your wonderful service in the time of war and I hope you get what you’re entitled to.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:36am
  80. that is sad

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:37am
  81. Her spouse fought n made sacrifices for his country now his country should make sacrifices 4 his spouse; Disgracefull

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:41am
  82. Shameful that this woman is being denied her rights!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:51am
  83. Unbelievable! WE will take her service and then give her the shaft. I say we because WE are the government, and WE are allowing this to happen

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:54am
  84. Praying SO hard for her! :(

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:06am
  85. This woman deserves her benefits and we all should be given equal rights this is a sad story but she is an amazing woman

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:07am
  86. OMG! I thought I read every disgusting message out there, but this one takes the cake! She is alone, grieving, and she can’t even provide for herself? So sickening….

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:12am
  87. SSI is nasty to deal with.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:33am
  88. simply unbelievable….

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:48am
  89. Outrageously unjust!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:55am
  90. Is there a petition out we can sign or get started to help her out????

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:18am
  91. HORRIBLE

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:18am
  92. I sure hope she wins the fight and gets the benefits, she has no reason not too

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:21am
  93. Poor old soul.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:29am
  94. What a very sad story! This women deserves her benefits
    Shes a normal person
    Transgender ir not she deserves it
    Damn i hate this world we live in :(

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:33am
  95. Robert Arellano

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:40am
  96. Us transvets have to fight for every thing. In 2009 I fought the VA for my benefits which under their rules I was supposed to be getting anyway but I had to supply a copy of their own rules to them to get anything done

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:26am
  97. What a shame that she has to fight for benefits – just wrong.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:50am
  98. I cried my eyes out watching her video. What great strength she posses to become into her shell at that time period. I wish and hope that you get the social security you definitely deserve.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:28am
  99. This woman is Amazing! sO strong! If there was a petition for her .. I would be first in line to sign it!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:38am
  100. FIGHT FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN ROBINA AND NEVER GIVE UP MAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:46am
  101. discraceful to treat her in such a way!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:59am
  102. This women deserves everything she has fought for. I wish her all the luck!!! Very touching story!!! Stay strong.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:18am
  103. so many of our veterans are being denied the benefits they earned. statistics show that as many as 20% of transgender adults over the age of 30 in the US are veterans. as many as 5% of all veterans are trans* this is not new, it is disgusting to know that ultimately, when the powers that be are done using us for their agendas, we are simply tossed aside like garbage and forgotten and ignored. when my time comes for retirement, i hold no illusions, it will happen to me also. #transarmyveteran

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:22am
  104. fight on robina, you are intitled whatever your gender

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 7:37am
  105. What a lovely moving story, I have so much respect for this lady and respect the fact she has stuck up for herself, she deserves only the best and should be given the same rights and benefits as anyone else.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8:13am
  106. Terrible. Typical American and Western scandal that ruins lives.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 9:22am
  107. We deserve the same rights as everyone else

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 10:18am
  108. I live for her pink eye shadow though

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 10:49am
  109. It is disgusting how they can allow her in one way and not another, so very typical.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 10:53am
  110. Seriously, why does her gender matter? She was married to a gd soldier!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 11:18am
  111. sad commentary on the Veterans office– It’s called institutionalized discrimination — pure and simple!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:44pm
  112. i hate seeing people suffer threw this

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:45pm
  113. this breaks my heart

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:10pm
  114. That is all kinds of messed up. She was married to her husband and was probably a good wife. And she can’t get survivors benefits to help her pay for her living expenses? That makes me sick.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:14pm
  115. And she also is a Vet. I can't believe she is being treated with so little respect.

    Replied on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 1:15pm
  116. How pathetic can they get?

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:57pm
  117. Shameful

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:00pm
  118. What a wonderful model for everyone

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:13pm
  119. Unfortunately, Retta Judy, this is so bloody typical!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 3:50pm
  120. Sue, sue, sue.

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:26pm
  121. this is so wrong. She’s a woman until there is government money involved?

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:13pm
  122. pay the WOMAN

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 7:24pm
  123. Come on give a veteran his rights and don’t pass judgments on his choices!

    Posted on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 8:25pm
  124. 52000 dollars that is what social security is fighting… Bullshit I call bullshit. 500 * 12 months lets say 8 years if she lives to be 100… Im disgusted at the way they are treating this beautiful woman who has already lived a very hard life..

    Posted on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 2:33am
  125. I pray the government does the right thing by Robina.

    Posted on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 10:22am