A Strong Statement... For My Wife

By Rhiza Dizon

Originally published on Advocate.com February 23 2009 12:00 AM ET

Kate Fleming often
dedicated her work, simply, "to my wife." Last
Thursday, however, it was Charlene Strong's turn to pay tribute
to her late partner with the premiere of the documentary
For My Wife

in Los Angeles.

A collaboration between
Strong and filmmakers David Rothmiller and L.D. Thompson, the
documentary follows the aftermath of an extraordinary
yet all-too-common scenario for same-sex couples: A
woman is prevented from seeing her dying partner in her
hospital room. It's a nightmare too horrible for
most couples to imagine, but it happened to Strong on
December 14, 2006.

On that evening, a
torrential rainstorm flooded the Seattle basement of Fleming
and Strong's home. Fleming, an award-winning audiobook
narrator, tried to retrieve equipment from the basement studio
but became trapped by the rising waters. When a rescue team
finally freed Fleming, she was unconscious and rushed to the
hospital. Without legal standing as her spouse, Strong was
denied access to Fleming by a social worker. Fleming's sister
had to be called to give Strong the necessary permission to be
with her wife in her final moments. To add insult to injury,
the funeral director refused to recognize Strong as Fleming's
partner, and instead directed all arrangement questions to
Fleming's mother.

"This was the second
time I was being told I was no one," Strong said.

A month and a half
later, Strong gave courageous testimony before the Washington
state legislature. Her story was influential in helping to pass
the state's domestic-partnership bill, which provides
hospital-visitation and end-of-life decision rights to
registered same-sex partners. Strong continues as
an active spokeswoman on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation, and has been appointed by Gov.
Chris Gregoire to serve on Washington State's
human rights commission.

After the screening at
the Writer's Guild Theater, Rothmiller, Thompson,
and Strong spoke about the documentary and the urgency for the
story to be told, especially following the aftermath of
Proposition 8. The documentary humanizes the struggle for
marriage equality.

"It's going to
take the voice of everyone in this room to fight this
battle," Rothmiller passionately urged the audience.

"My story is
unique, but it's not unique in that the fact that every single
day people are denied to be with the person they love,"
Strong said. "I'm not alone in this issue. It's about anyone,
it's about anyone who's ever loved someone. Love speaks louder
than anything."
For My Wife

was a true testament to that.

The documentary
premiered at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film
Festival, taking three awards, and is scheduled to
premiere in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne in
the coming months. The screening in Los Angeles was a
collaboration between the WGA, and the National Gay and Lesbian
Task Force in conjunction with Honor PAC, the Jordan-Rustin
Coalition, API Equality, and the the Writers Guild of
America-West GLWC.