92-Year-Old Trans Widow Wins Social Security Battle

The 92-year-old transgender World War II veteran received a Valentine's Day surprise in the form of a legal victory.

BY Parker Marie Molloy

February 24 2014 4:22 PM ET

Robina Asti, a 92-year-old transgender widow and World War II veteran, has come away victorious in her recent battle with the Social Security Administration after being denied spousal benefits following the death of her husband, Norwood.

Although Asti had legal documentation — including a passport and driver's license — that listed her as female, the SSA originally denied her claim for spousal survivor benefits, asserting that Asti was "legally male" at the time of her marriage, rendering the widow ineligible to receive benefits usually granted to Americans when a spouse dies.

Lambda Legal took on Asti's case, making the argument that Asti was legally female at the time of her marriage, as was supported by various pieces of government identification. Therefore, Lambda argued, she was owed the same benefits she would have received had she been a cisgender (nontrans) woman married to a cisgender man.

Earlier this month, Asti discovered that the SSA, which had denied her claim since she first filed it in 2012, had deposited money into her account, seemingly indicating a shift in the agency's stance.

"We are relieved that Robina's wait is finally over," Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. "The SSA acts in mysterious ways and has not issued a written decision in her case, but we are glad that Robina has finally received the benefits that she was owed." Levasseur noted, "On Valentine's Day, Robina found that the SSA had deposited the money she was owed into her account," but cautions against declaring widespread victory, as many trans people remain in the same limbo in which Asti found herself.

"Lambda Legal has recieved calls from other transgender spouses trapped in SSA limbo, as Robina was," Levasseur said. "We await changes to the SSA policy that would clarify its position on transgender spouses to ensure this does not happen to others, which we are hopeful will soon be released."

As for Asti, she is grateful for both the decision of the SSA to deposit money into her account and the public support she has received.

"When I saw that the money was in my account, I was so happy," Asti said through Lambda Legal. "I felt like it was my husband Norwood's Valentine's Day gift to me. I'm glad that Social Security finally came to its senses. I hope this means that other people won't have to experience this."

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