Lambda Legal is representing Robina Asti, a 92-year-old transgender woman who was denied survivor benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA) after her husband’s death. The agency denied her benefits after it determined that she was “legally male” at the time of their marriage despite all the legal documents to the contrary.
“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, Transgender Rights Project Director. “The government has recognized Robina as a woman for over 30 years, including on her passport, FAA pilot’s license and her driver’s license. 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.”
In a 2004 ceremony in an airplane hangar in Orange County, New York, Robina, a World War II veteran and pilot, married her longtime sweetheart, Norwood Patton. In June 2012, Norwood passed away at 97 years old. On July 27, 2012, Robina applied in person for survivor benefits through the SSA. Though Robina already receives Social Security benefits, being able to claim survivor benefits would increase her monthly check by about $500.
On April 24, 2013, the SSA notified Robina that her survivor benefits under Norwood’s Social Security record 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 Robina’s behalf. After more than six months, there is still no word from the Social Security Administration.
“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. “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.”
Watch the video of Robina’s story below.