David O'Leary and Miguel Garcia are among more than two dozen people who have come forward about losing a gay partner in the World Trade Center. They've fought to receive the same recognition accorded to the widows and widowers of September 11. The two men weren't automatically sent tickets to official commemorative events, or presented with memorial urns, and Garcia was initially turned away by the Red Cross at Pier 94.
For O'Leary, Garcia, and other gay partners of September 11, their treatment has had a lot to do with their relationships with the victims' parents and siblings. O'Leary enjoys close ties with the family of Michael Lepore, his partner of more than eighteen-years. Lepore's mother, Jean, signed over a $50,000 check from the Workers Compensation Board, and his brother Anthony passed on the commemorative urn from the city, along with invitations to memorial ceremonies and other events.
A recent immigrant from Mexico, Miguel Garcia has less contact with the family of his deceased boyfriend, Juan Ortega, who was a food delivery person for the restaurant Fine & Shapiro. Garcia has received assistance from the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, but has had difficulty obtaining financial aid from the Red Cross and other charitable organizations.
Neither has yet applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which is the most significant source of assistance provided to the victims' families, with an average pay out of $1.85 million. While widows and widowers who apply are almost automatically covered, domestic partners won't necessarily be included. Gay applicants are most likely to be awarded money from the fund if they're mentioned as the primary beneficiary in a will. If the deceased left no will, domestic partners still have a good chance of receiving compensation if they apply in conjunction with the victim's blood relatives.
If not, special master of the fund, Kenneth Feinberg, does have some limited discretion. The New York State Legislature also passed a bill expressing their intent that domestic partners be included in the federal fund, which was meant to increase Feinberg's leeway on the issue. But as the special master told NEW YORK VOICES' Rafael Pi Roman, while he personally thinks domestic partners should be better protected, he has no choice but to abide by state law in rendering his decisions.
To learn more about the broad purpose of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, read the complete transcript of Rafael Pi Roman's interview with Kenneth Feinberg. He discusses why the fund is designed to award more money to wealthy families than to poor survivors, its overall purpose, and whether it should be expanded in the case of future terrorist attacks.
For more information about individuals who lost a gay partner on September 11, visit the websites of Lambda Legal Defense Fund and the Empire State Pride Agenda.