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

Thursday, January 30, 2014
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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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